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Frank Zappa - Wazoo CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.17 | 73 ratings

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3 stars This is Frank Zappa as a big band bandleader. In 1972, while still in a wheelchair from an incident in 1971 where a crazed fan knocked him off a high stage (thus ending the Mothers; this was just a week after the infamous "Smoke on the Water" incident too, at Montreux), Zappa returned to the jazz fusion territory of his 1969 solo album "Hot Rats" and put together some new music scored for a large scale band. Some of this material ended up on the studio album "The Grand Wazoo". But a brief tour with the expanded ensemble was also undertaken, and in 2007 we were able to hear one of these shows for the very first time (unless you were there, of course, or had a bootleg. It was certainly my first time hearing it).

Zappa was no stranger to scoring music for large ensembles. He had already done so for the prior year's "200 Motels" feature film, for a symphony orchestra and choir, and in fact his earliest composing as a teenager had been for orchestral music rather than rock music. So Frank knew what he was doing. If not for the outlandish expense of these shows, who knows, he might have taken it even further. Indeed, I sometimes think that his later pared down rock ensembles were approached by Frank somewhat cynically, as if he were thinking, "well, the shallow kids of America love rock music with a good beat, so I'll disguise my complex music in rock and roll clothing and maybe they'll buy it." He once said in his book that he wouldn't have even bothered to write lyrics for his songs if he didn't believe that rock music fans need lyrics or it goes too far over their heads. Gee thanks, Frank. At least we have this album, a fully instrumental effort that manages to be rocking, intricate, complex, accessible and fun all at the same time. Because he cared enough about instrumental music to make it interesting even without lyrics. I'll take that over "Dirty Love" any day.

Hardcore fans will note the presence of "Greggary Peccary". This version does not have the spirited storytelling but is rather a fully instrumental early reading of the musical themes (and some inspired improvisational sections) that resembles the final version but is by no means the same exact piece. "Variant I Processional March" is an early version of the piece later known as "Re-Gyptian Strut". "Think it Over (The Grand Wazoo)" and "Big Swifty" appeared on the studio albums "The Grand Wazoo" and "Waka/Jawaka", respectively. "Approximate" did not appear on any studio albums, but it was made for stage performance, and was performed frequently by his later rock band lineups. In the piece, each player's rhythm is written out, but the notes are not -- the player can play whatever note they want, so long as they adhere strictly to the (insanely complicated, it turns out) rhythm. It's a lot of fun. And it has a jam section in the middle to reward you with some good old fashioned solos.

In all, this makes for a great archival live release, from a unique period in Zappa's performing history - Zappa not as rock band leader, but more as the conductor of a rockin' jazz orchestra. As great as it is to have a document like this, after the initial thrill wears off,. the seams eventually start to show: the technical difficulties in mic'ing all the instruments properly, the occasionally directionless improvisations, the imperfect execution. For fans of Zappa who love his jazz-oriented material (like me), this is a wonderful release that adds another piece to the "conceptual continuity" that is the Zappa oeuvre. I'll give it a solid 3/5, leaning towards 4.

HolyMoly | 3/5 |


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