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Frank Zappa - The Grand Wazoo CD (album) cover

THE GRAND WAZOO

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.31 | 845 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TCat
Prog Reviewer
5 stars At the time of the recording of this album and it's following concert tours, FZ was recovering from an accident where he was pushed off the stage by a crazed fan. The albums and tours during this time period were mostly jazz fusion, and FZ toured with a variety of personnel which varied in size. For a short time, during what was called The Grand Wazoo tour, he toured with his largest array of musicians ever and performed this amazing style of jazz fusion. Frank was at a compositional peak at this time (he reached many of those peaks during his life btw) and it shows in the excellence of his music and compositions. If you are a lover of jazz fusion and almost completely lyric free (except a few instances) then this is the period in FZ's discography that you need to check out.

There are a few albums that were released during this time and a few released posthumously that represent this period of time quite well. These albums are this one, "Hot Rats", "Waka/Jawaka" and "Burnt Weenie Sandwhich". The posthumous albums are "Wazoo" (which features the Grand Wazoo tour), "Imaginary Diseases" (featuring the Petit Wazoo line up--the smaller "big band") and "Joes' Domage" (this one features rehearsal sessions from the above mentioned studio albums). Those that love this music from FZ should put themselves in contact with these albums.

The album consists of all jazz fusion pieces with very little lyrical content. There is no humor (not much anyway) or guitar soloing in these albums. It is 100% jazz fusion with a very large brass and woodwind ensemble. The music is excellent here and showcases FZ's compositional prowess and his ability to lead a jazz orchestra. There are two track listing orders for this album, the original with "For Calvin" first and "The Grand Wazoo" as the 2nd track. The 1990 reissue reverses the order of the first 2 tracks. All of the other tracks are in the same order. FZ okayed the reissue and the new order of the tracks.

"For Calvin" features some lyrics, not many though, and the song is dedicated to Cal Schenkel who did a lot of album design for FZ over the years. The story behind the song is that Calvin had borrowed a '59 Jaguar from FZ (apparently it was Captain Beefheart's car) and was stopped at a traffic light, when two hippies came along and got into the car, thinking he had stopped to give them a ride. The hippies didn't talk or say where they wanted to go, so Cal took them to his studio and told them that the ride ended there. They stayed in the car while Cal worked in his studio and made themselves some bologna sandwiches, ate them then finally left. The song is dedicated to that incident, just as many of FZ's songs were dedicated to real life incidents. The song itself is more of an avant garde style of jazz with a lot of dissonance and strange off-kilter rhythms. A nice study in modern compositional style, except instead of classical, it's jazz. The centerpiece of the album is "The Grand Wazoo" which is a 13+ minute instrumental full of amazing musicianship and orchestration. There is a main theme that bookends the middle section which features both improvisation and structure in various segments throughout the piece. The end of the main them as it goes into the middle section is punctuated by a great boogie style, rhythmic driven foundation which serves as a great background for the soloing going on. This gives way to more modern stylings from time to time which revert back to straightforward jazz. This is an excellent example of mixing styles and FZ shows that it works very well here. Even with the mixing of styles, the song is solid and concise and is a great example of FZ's genius.

The 2nd half of the album starts with a short mid-tempo piece which continues the same jazz feeling but it also has some wordless vocals. This is a short interlude piece that separates the more up beat songs with some softer midtempo songs. Following this is "Eat that Question" which according to FZ was originally called "Eat that Christian". Why the title changed is anyone's guess. This piece features George Duke and his excellent piano playing. On this song, the production value given to the electric piano is better than what had ever been heard before this time and thus this track stands out not only on this album, but in production also with the improvement of sonic quality for this particular instrument. Without going into detail, this track was instrumental in improving certain recording techniques. The last track is again a more laid back jazz piece called "Blessed Relief"

This is definitely a masterpiece of jazz fusion and progressive jazz. It stands right up there with anything recorded by any jazz fusion great including Miles Davis. I don't understand why this recording doesn't get the respect it deserves, but I am happy to see that at least in the archives, most reviewers revere this album like it should be. It is one of Zappa's best line ups and is the album to have that shows his genius as a composer that was excellent in all of the genres of music that he wrote songs for. This is an essential recording, for collectors and jazz fans alike and should be a part of your progressive collection. 5 stars without a doubt!

TCat | 5/5 |

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