The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, NORWIND records, 2013

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, NORWIND records, 2013


Great (old) news from Norway. In October 2013 The Norwegian Wind Ensemble released his tribute to Frank Zappa: The Brass From Utopia. In the words of the artistic leader Stian Aareskjold: “In 1993 I, as many others, was blown away by Frank Zappa’s record with Ensemble Modern, The Yellow Shark, from that day I dug into the complex, wonderful and humorous world of Frank Zappa, I wanted to play his music. And I wanted to do it in a new way. Not as a copy of Zappa’s own band. Not as a copy of the Ensemble Modern. I wanted to do it for brass and percussion. It took a while to find the right group of brass players, but The Norwegian Wind Ensemble has got the perfect mix of musicians to express the many styles and moods of Zappa’s intriguing music. They took the Challenge!” (from the liner notes).

The outcome is truly entertaining, the Ensemble is tight and deliver a very accurate performance, mostly of familiar arrangements adapted for this particular setting, with a lot of new details that contribute to create their original voice as Zappa performers. The album includes three new transcriptions also, and this is a really appealing part of their work, for sure for who is looking for a new light upon the Zappa catalogue. Namely Fembot In a Wet T- Shirt, I Promise not to Come in Your Mouth and Blessed Relief. And between those three I would choose re-orchestration of the Zappa in New York song as the most intriguing. The original is great and The Norwegian Wind Ensemble succeeded in rendering the ambiguous tone of such a “sensitive instrumental ballad for late-nite easy listening”, and for creatures from the outer space.

From the Det Norske Blåseensemble (DNBE) profile web page, and with a little help of a pernicious on-line translator, we understand that the Ensemble is a very old institution, being founded in 1774, that today focuses on improvised music and early music, especially baroque.

In the case of the Zappa album, “Det Norske Zappa-ensemble” is a thirteen piece band: ten brass musicians (two of them at bass trombone and tuba), one drummer and two percussionists.

Here are the complete credits from back and inner sleeve (note that it is a ZFT approved project).

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack back cover

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack back cover


The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack inner cover

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack inner cover


The album starts with Peaches en Regalia, the reference arrangement is that of the Ensemble Modern (from Greggery Peccary and other Persuasions). In this case the piece starts at a slower tempo and there are a lot of differences in the orchestration, such as a written trombone solo (0:58-1:14) instead of a woodwinds/guitar section, just to give an example. A perfect intro to the sound of the Ensemble.

Medley from “Make a Jazz Noise Here” declares his origin in the name. This arrangement sounds quite natural due to the brass nature of the original. The Tuba lines are a truly entertaining substitute of the Scott Thunes parts. And the xylophone instead of the electric guitar intro to Theme from Lumpy Gravy is a choice that gives a slightly different tone to the humor inside. It would be interesting to hear this very same version in a mix where the percussion is more upfront, it seems too much far here.

For the next two pieces the reference arrangement is the Dog/Meat Yellow Shark duo. The lack of woodwinds adds drama in some passages, during the first Dog Breath theme for instance, the band timbre sounds really dark.

Back to Make a Jazz Noise Here for the first part of Big Swifty. The classical quotes are here also: Lohengrin, prelude to act III (Wagner), Carmen (Bizet) and the 1812 Overture (Tchaikovsky). The following Best Band improvised “Jazz Noise” section is replaced by a long trumpet solo where the Ensemble swings like a great Jazz Big Band. Back to the original for the closing section.

Fembot In a Wet T-Shirt, the first new transcription, follows and goes with the Joe’s Garage version until more or less 2:15 in the original, which features a middle section with the short composition #8, and materials from the first movement of Mo ‘N Herb’s Vacation. Especially for this middle section the result is brilliant, and the Ensemble is really at ease with the swing nature of the rest of the piece.

Revised Music for Low Budget Orchestra follows the line of the Ensemble Modern arrangement included in Greggery Peccary and other Persuasions, but of course the orchestration is substantially different. The “guitar solo section” is given to the lead trombone and to the trumpet in replacement of the trombone/violin homologous of the Ensemble Modern, and the result is likewise effective.

I Promise not to Come in Your Mouth enters and some sort of heavy listeners will fly to New York, right away in 1976. The guitar solo section is played by the trombone, while the keyboard solo one is played by the trumpet. Thanks to DNBE the world has a new reference for this piece, to be hopefully played a lot more in the future.

Echinda’s Arf (Of You) follows the original, the brass way. Being so near to the Roxy by Proxy tour de force, the above mentioned heavy listener may only hope for a next two drummers brass version.

This Blessed Relief sounds already as a classic, as the other two new transcriptions. One should only ask why they materialized so late in this form. Great trombone solo, great overall swing.

With Dupree’s Paradise we are again back to Make a Jazz Noise Here, with the same approach followed for Big Swifty. Here also the original abstract improvised section is replaced with a Jazz Big Band section. The result is the shortest version ever conceived, but a lot swinging anyway.

G-Spot Tornado for the finale, of course the Ensemble Modern is the reference. A big challenge with a sparkling result. Size of course matters, the impact of the Ensemble Modern full orchestra and throttle is huge, but this accurate rendition is highly entertaining and the long final gong sound is a perfect closer.

“The gong always gets ‘em.” Frank Zappa, “Carved In The Rock”, Roxy by Proxy

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, Echinda’s Arf (Of You), Yellow Snow Festival, Larvik, Norway, February 11, 2012


Roxy by Proxy

Posted: March 21, 2014 in album review, zappa
Frank Zappa, Roxy by Proxy, Zappa Records, March 2014

Frank Zappa, Roxy by Proxy, Zappa Records, March 2014

A hard start to handle after such a long wait, so, leaving some old questions behind (why now?), straight, no chaser: this is going to be one of the most entertaining albums among those issued by the Zappa Family Trust in the XXI century. It could be a slight biased view, since here we truly enjoy those ’73-’74 years, but on the other hand it is not easy to find a Frank Zappa enthusiast not fond of that period. Not only, if you are into it, you probably consider Roxy & Elsewhere the best outcome in the Zappa catalog from those years. Those Roxy performances, that have been the core of the 1974 release, are back in a great shape and with some fresh new material awaiting to be discovered.

Actually the news department consists mainly of three previously unreleased arrangements out of a total of 12 tracks (track 1 is a spoken intro). Two of them, namely Inca Roads and the Kong/Chunga/Genes medley, being quite familiar to guerilla live tapes listeners (e.g. zappateers). However there is a chance that the third one, Cheepnis- Percussion, will sound as a great surprise for many. This rarely played number (just two marks in the FZShows document) consists of the “rhythm track of the next song”, a sort of Cheepnis karaoke for two drums and percussion, amazing and entertaining, sing along if you dare!

The album comes with a long and detailed essay by Ruth Underwood, a valuable companion for the set. Here are the main credits:

1. “Carved In The Rock” 3:42
2. Inca Roads 8:21
3. Penguin In Bondage 5:52 [R&E: 06:48 (includes a 1:25 Preamble)]
4. T’Mershi Duween 1:56
5. Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat 4:14
6. RDNZL 5:23
7. Village Of The Sun 3:24 [R&E: 04:17 (includes a 0:50 Preamble)]
8. Echinda’s Arf (Of You) 4:00 [R&E: 03:53]
9. Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing 5:28 [R&E: 09:40]
10. Cheepnis-Percussion 5:24 (3:01 without the spoken outro)
11. Cheepnis 3:35 [R&E: 06:31 (includes a 2:09 Preamble)]
12. Dupree’s Paradise 15:12
13. King Kong/Chunga’s Revenge/Mr. Green Genes 9:13

Time marks in square brackets refers to the Roxy & Elsewhere versions. All the R&E songs with this tag but one fully derive from Roxy recordings. In the case of the R&E Penguin in Bondage version, parts are also from the Auditorium Theater, Chicago, May 11, 1974 (late show).

Frank Zappa: lead guitar, vocals
George Duke: keyboards, synthesizer, vocals
Tom Fowler: bass
Ruth Underwood: percussion
Bruce Fowler: trombone, dancing (?)
Napoleon Murphy Brock: tenor sax, flute, lead vocals
Ralph Humphrey: drums
Chester Thompson: drums

The Roxy, West Hollywood, CA, December 9-10, 1973.

The set starts with a classic band intro followed by the presentation of Inca Roads, a brief description of the plans of Nazca with the old rock carvings as depicted in “Chariots of the Gods?“, a pseudo-scientific book by Erich Von Daniken, quite popular in the ’70s. The track is helpful to get familiar with the sound environment of the small venue. The liner notes report that this is a 1987 Bob Stone mix, probably the same of the Roxy recordings scattered in the YCDTOSA series (I’m the Slime [Vol.1], Big Swifty [Vol.1], Dickie’s Such an Asshole [Vol.3], Montana (parts) [Vol.4]). In 1987 FZ decided to bring everything up front emphasizing the small room effect. I’m wondering why this different approach, possibly the sound of Roxy & Elsewhere derived from the need to harmonize the overdubs for the Roxy tapes and the other audio sources, which came from different, and maybe broader, audio environments.

The real program starts smoothly with an unreleased arrangement of Inca Roads, also known in the trade as the “cocktail lounge version”, because of his “America drinks” mood. The George Duke “Thank you honey” at Ruth Underwood for a marimba lounge deviated lick is really amusing! After a couple of minutes the classic arrangement enters, but in a bit slower tempo. Solos for George Duke and Bruce Fowler. The last two minutes of the track are actually the intro to the next song. A little Zappa wisdom (“Perverts help to make normal people look good”) before the classic Penguin in Bondage. A different take here (with a different guitar solo), comparing to the R&E version, which includes edits from a 1974 show.

The next is “a bongo number”: T’Mershi Duween in an arrangement similar to the YCDTOSA Vol.2 rendition. Two drum sets marks the difference. Same for the following Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat.

Dog/Meat segues into a RDNZL version with a shorter opening section than the one performed later by this band, the whole piece is just 4:29 long, but there’s room for a guitar solo (1:20 long) and for a short George Duke break. The ending of the track is just chatting about adjusting monitors and audio stuff and it is time for Zappa to dedicate Village of the Sun to John and Nellie Wilson “because they probably know what this song is about better than anybody else in this room”.

For the classic Village/Echidna/Wash sequence I’d like to quote a zappateers post by pbuzby, a perfect nutshell:

“Village” sounds very different from R&E with Napoleon’s original live vocal. “Echidna’s” sounds similar to R&E (at least until the ending section which sounds heavily overdubbed on R&E) but FZ’s guitar break in the middle is different. The drum breaks and trombone and keyboard solos in “Don’t You Ever Wash” are also different.

Just one more remark concerning the trombone solo in Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing. Since the corresponding solo on the R&E rendition is one of the favorite Resentment Listener Bruce Fowler solos in the FZ catalog, on my first listen I had great expectations here. And they have been partially frustrated, mainly because the trombone track is a little too far in the mix. A check on the other Bruce solos in the set, confirmed such an issue.

The last Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing drums break segues into Cheepnis – Percussion, as already mentioned, a percussion trio treatment for the monster movie classic, one of the most relevant highlight of the set. “You’ve all been fooled!” Zappa states at the end, introducing the complete arrangement, shorter and quite different from the highly overdubbed R&E version, which has a lot of studio vocals, and a central section probably cut in studio for the most part (from right after “NUCLEAR FORCE!” until “Get the toilet paper! You know we need it!”, featuring also some speeded up vocals).

The following Dupree’s Paradise is another highlight of the set, and we were already informed about that thanks to the Roxy footage the Zappa Family Trust published in 2006. A 32 min. QuickTime file, which includes Montana too, is available on this link HERE through Here it is via YouTube.

The Roxy by Proxy version is a different take, it is shorter (14:59 vs 20:20) and it is possibly edited in a different manner. The video has the following ingredients: The Hook as a starter, a classic Duke managed long intro, theme, flute solo, bass solo, trombone solo (a little far in the mix here too) with some stage trombone madness shared with Duke, theme break, guitar solo, theme break and finale. The Roxy by Proxy edit has the same elements minus the trombone thing. It has significant differences for the bass and guitar solos. The first melts into Montana for a while, the second includes some really intriguing explorations around the T’Mershi Duween theme.

The album closes with “a little cheapo medley” with King Kong “hooked up with Chunga’s Revenge and the ending of Mr. Green Genes“. The concert chill out, the Zappa way! Cheapo solos for Bruce Fowler (again a bit low in the mix) and George Duke in King Kong, then Chunga’s Revenge for a cheapo guitar solo, that melts into Mr. Green Genes for a not at all cheapo finale. The main thematic material is interleaved with The Hook and some percussion breaks, the band fractures and rebuilds Mr. Green Genes until a finale that includes quotes from Also Sprach Zarathustra (as pointed out by yetanother) and Midnight Sun, the Saint Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast deviation.

If this album would have been published by Frank Zappa is questionable, as for every release designed out of his complete control. The question will remain unfortunately unanswered. However these live recordings have such a powerful impact that Roxy by Proxy will be probably considered one of the most relevant Zappa Family Trust release. Moreover, a close listen to this album brings new light to the great overdubs and editing job made for Roxy & Elsewhere.

Now is the time to cross our fingers again and wait for THE MOVIE!

Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, 1983, cover art by Tanino Liberatore (back and front)

Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, 1983, cover art by Tanino Liberatore (back and front)


Gil Chaya has a collector page at “I collect Liberatore, Ranx, and Bisley from 1990 to 1994, I have a very big collection of artwork to trade or buy”.

He has a nice collection of Tanino Liberatore sketches, including some from The Man from Utopia cover art, that shows Zappa as RanXerox, the cyborg-punk character created by Stefano Tamburini and drawn by Liberatore.

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, front cover sketch, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, front cover sketch, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, back cover sketch, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, back cover sketch, posted by Gil Chaya at


On the left side of the sketch above, note the placeholder for a six sides tracklist!

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at

Tanino Liberatore, Frank Zappa, The Man from Utopia, cover trial, posted by Gil Chaya at


Here is an excerpt of a 2012 interview given by Tanino Liberatore to Pubblico (November 20, 2012, clippings available here) :

The cover of The Man from Utopia is Zappa as RanXerox!
It was him who wanted it, he liked the idea of Frank Xerox.

It was him who told you about the stories depicted or did you witness all those scenes?
I was at the Naples and Rome concerts where nothing special happened. After the Naples concert we went dining together to discuss the cover. In the beginning it should have been a six pages comic strip, but the project was later reduced. Since I don’t like covers with a lot of details or messages, and I prefer a strong drawing to leave a powerful impact, I proposed to draw the front cover according to my approach, leaving to him any decision concerning the back cover. Frank accepted. So in the back I drew the promoters who worry only about sniffing cocaine, The Pope, the gal who let Zappa know about RanXerox. Also, the famous “3-1 Vaffanculo” banner (referred to the 1982 FIFA World Cup Final, editor’s note), the infamous Palermo tear gas riot and the sun with the face, because he loved an Italian olive oil with a similar logo.


The astral object on the right top corner of the back cover looks more the moon to me, there must be a misunderstanding here. Anyways, a six pages comic strip seems to get along perfectly with a three lps set: Frank Xerox live in Italy, 1982?

In another interview given to the Italian Magazine XL (n.80, October 2012), also documented in video on the XL blog, Tanino explains that it was a young woman who showed a copy of RanXerox to Zappa after the 1982 Rome concert.

XL, n. 80, October 2012, "Frank Xerox"

XL, n. 80, October 2012, “Frank Xerox”

The Man from Utopia back cover detail, a woman holding a copy of Frigidaire

The Man from Utopia back cover detail, a woman holding a copy of Frigidaire

She said she was a Frigidaire (the Italian magazine that first published the adventures of the cyborg-punk hero) journalist and showed the freshly published album fully devoted to RanXerox. Zappa was so amused by the comic album that asked his friend Massimo Bassoli to put him in touch with the authors. And here they are in 1982, with a copy of RanXerox.

Stefano Tamburini, Frank Zappa, Tanino Liberatore, Rome, 1982

Stefano Tamburini, Frank Zappa, Tanino Liberatore, Rome, 1982


The Monsters of Folk

Posted: March 7, 2014 in folklore, interview, zappa
IRCAM (Paris) by Arnfried Zerche

IRCAM (Paris) by Arnfried Zerche


An intense but little known interview conducted in Paris,
and how Frank Zappa got to know “Uncle Sal” from Bitti
(Barbagia, Sardinia, Italy)


Landscape of Barbagia, Sardinia, Italy

Landscape of Barbagia, Sardinia, Italy


There has been a thread connecting Paris and Bitti via Rome. Frank Zappa at IRCAM (for the Pierre Boulez recordings) and Salvatore Bandinu (bass voice for Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”), via Riccardo Giagni.

Giagni is a musicologist and composer who had a very peculiar relationship with Frank Zappa, started in January 1984, when he managed to interview him. As it will be clear soon, their relation was based on a common enthusiastic inclination: the music from the traditions of Bulgaria, India, Arab Culture and Sardinia, and probably from other territories too. Giagni told this story in Frank Zappa Domani, an Italian book published by Castelvecchi in 2000 and now out of print. “Frank Zappa Domani” was also a conference held in Tivoli in 1999 and organized by Gianfranco Salvatore, who was the editor of the book too.

In 1984 Riccardo Giagni was working for RadioTre (an Italian public radio channel), for “Un Certo Discorso”, a radio show rather relevant at that time, from a cultural point of view. Riccardo proposed to go to Paris to meet Zappa and interview him at IRCAM while he was working with Pierre Bolulez. Luckily RadioTre agreed, so Riccardo asked Massimo Bassoli to help him to get in touch with Zappa, who at first accepted a five minutes talk. They met at the composer Hotel suite in Paris, and eventually the conversation become very extensive, it lasted the whole afternoon.

In the book Riccardo tells that the interview took a good path, probably because he did not ask details concerning forthcoming releases or about his use of wah-wah, he addressed the core of his compositional strategies instead. “I think of composition as a process of decorating time” was one of the statements that hit Giagni most. Later in 1988 he gave more or less the same statement in The Real Frank Zappa Book: “A composer’s job involves the decoration of fragments of time.” The composer fills his time as the painter fills his canvas.

They also discussed music of ethnic tradition and discovered a common ground in Indian classical music, traditional Arab music, but most of all, in the music of the Bulgarian tradition. So they started chatting about then obscure singers and players, now a little more known given that ethnic music later become a recognizable category. Valya Balkanska (FZ of her: “terrific!”), Philip Koutev, Nikola Ganchev or The Pennywhistlers were some of the names, they were both fond of the rhythmic structure of the Bulgarian music, with its typical odd figures. And here is where it all started, Riccardo promised to send a tape with the best of his collection of Bulgarian music. The Berlin Wall was still up, and such material was very difficult to reach from the US, but Giagni had good contacts at the Italy-URSS association, so he managed to gather a nice Balkanton vinyl collection. Zappa appreciated the Bulgaria tape a lot, to such an extent that he later used it as a warm up before his concerts.

Some interesting time decorations passed by fast, and in 1990 the composer and the musicologist with a taste for odd times in Bulgarian music, were still in touch. In a phone conversation in May, an already hill Zappa told Giagni about his project of a big world traditional music festival to be named “The Monsters of Folk” (an obvious pun with a famous heavy metal event). At this point Giagni told about the great Sardinia tradition of the “cantu a tenores“, a style of polyphonic folk singing from Barbagia, a mountain area of inner Sardinia. Zappa replied that he already knew about some Sardinia traditions through a tape given by the Italian promoter Claudio Trotta (of Barley Arts). Giagni insisted and presented Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu” as the best group for the “cantu a tenores”. They have a real tight sound, they practice original harmonic solutions and the single voices of the quartet are beautiful, he said. Zappa asked for a tape with the single voices, Giagni went to Bitti, recorded and sent a DAT tape to LA, where it found the enthusiastic reaction of our time decorator, who asked for digital recordings of the single voices singing single notes to be sampled, and demanded for a full album to be produced by Riccardo Giagni. All the requests from California were accepted in Italy. Zappa received the single voice recordings and was again enthusiastic of the “Barbagia cowboys”, so he called the “Remunnu ‘e Locu” singers, and he was particularly thrilled by the bass Salvatore Bandinu (now retired), “the cowest of them all!”, FZ entered his voice into the synclavier as “Uncle Sal”.

To have an idea of how “Uncle Sal” could have sounded, play the following sample linked form the mp3 page available through the Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu” web site. It is a recording of a single “bassu” voice.

Bassu singing fragment

-       ;- {=      -

And here comes some time and space for a digression (not so long, please be patient). Given the Ensemble Ascolta performance in Berlin in 2007, where they played Overture to Uncle Sam, Part I as an unreleased Synclavier composition, I am wondering if Uncle Sam is actually a misspelled Uncle Sal!

A 2:24 min version of this unreleased composition is available through the Ensemble “Ascolta Plays Zappa” page and linked here:

Overture to Uncle Sam, Part I by Ensemble Ascolta

A source (, reported by IINK) reported that in the Ensemble Ascolta program, for Overture to Uncle Sam, Part I it was specified: “planned as an overture to an opera for La Scala in Milan”.

Moreover, in The Real Frank Zappa Book Dio Fa is depicted as a project for an opera to be premiered at La Scala. Describing the stage set details it says: “The musical accompaniment will include full orchestral settings, chamber music settings, ethnic choral and instrumental setting (executed via digital sampling and digital tape playback)”.

Finally, listen carefully to the throat vocals in Dio Fa, my guess is that “Uncle Sal” voice melts into a tuvan Huun-Huur-Tu voice.

-       ;- {=      -


Back to the Zappa requests to Giagni, an album has been recorded and issued in 1990 by Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”, entitled In Tonos.

A statement by Frank Zappa appears in the back cover of the cd booklet.

Tenores di Bitti "Remunnu 'e Locu", In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, first and last pages

Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”, In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, first and last pages


Here is a fragment of Muttos, a song from the album, linked from the already mentioned mp3 page from their web site.

Muttos (fragment)

In the following, some images from the booklet, and the back cover of the cd.

Tenores di Bitti "Remunnu 'e Locu", In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, credits

Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”, In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, credits

Tenores di Bitti "Remunnu 'e Locu", In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, about the "a Tenores" singing

Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”, In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, about the “a Tenores” singing

Tenores di Bitti "Remunnu 'e Locu", In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, about Tenores di Bitti "Remunnu 'e Locu"

Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”, In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd booklet, about Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”

Tenores di Bitti "Remunnu 'e Locu", In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd back cover

Tenores di Bitti “Remunnu ‘e Locu”, In Tonos, 1990 (New Tone), cd back cover


Back to the ’80s and forward to 2013, the Paris interview has been broadcasted in 1984 by Rai Radio 3 into the “Un Certo Discorso” show, and partially transmitted again by Radio 3 on December 9, 2013 into “La Grande Radio” show, to pay a tribute to FZ, 20 years after his passing. The 2013 radio program included extracts form three shows the Radio3 devoted to the music of Frank Zappa: “Zappa in Testa” (2003), “Un Certo Discorso” (1984), “Storyville” (2002).

Here is the December 9, 2013 podcast, the “Un Certo Discorso” fragment starts at 10:45.

La Grande Radio, December 9, 2013 podcast

The interview has been translated into Italian, the voice of Zappa is always in the background. Only a short bit has been left without translation, it’s from 33:28 to 35:43 into the podcast.

Here is the transcription (please correct):

If you have a regular pulse, and you offend it with a very irregular phrase that goes over it… But that phrase has to be played exactly, it can’t be played as if it were an improvisation, it has to be an exact… it has to be a blasphemy against the original rhythm concept.

I like the idea of music where you can tap your foot to the basic pulse of the bar, and against that hear things that are very tense, and the tension of the rhythm of the melody, versus how those notes affect the chords, is what is going to determine how tense the whole composition is going to be.

In very traditional diatonic music there are stupid types of tensions, like dominant 7th chord and variations on that, which eventually resolve to a tonic.

And in jazz there’s two, five, one, which is the most offensive thing that you can deal with, it’s like you know it’s going home any minute now.

All things for the western hear that are costumes, they become a costume to hearing things presented that way.

They know that if something is really academic and nice it’s going to go back to the tonic after a certain period of time.

And the hear is come to expect that. By denying that, constantly… it’s like sleep deprivation torture, in a way. Have you ever been without sleep for a long time? You begin to see and hear things that aren’t really there, but they’re actually quite interesting.

You can do the same thing in a composition by presenting it in such a way that the psychological results of what you are doing are known in advance, you build this into the composition.

Because of what the listener expects to hear, by denying that to the listener, you are going to create a sensation for the listener that he wouldn’t get ordinarily.

So that is part of the composition.


It is a truly significant statement that anticipates what Zappa will write in his autobiography:

The creation and destruction of harmonic and ‘statistical’ tensions is essential to the maintenance of compositional drama. Any composition (or improvisation) which remains consistent and ‘regular’ throughout is, for me, equivalent to watching a movie with only ‘good guys’ in it, or eating cottage cheese.

Frank Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book page 181,  Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso, 1990 —

Which is also quoted in the Harmony wikipedia article.

Riccardo Giagni was able to set the right climate for the interview: Frank Zappa felt free to express his own firm beliefs concerning composition, and to discuss other topics, as traditional music, as if he knew the interviewer since a long time. And it was also seminal for an important album of traditional music from Sardinia. I do hope this interview will be published in his complete form soon!


Ensemble musikFabrik

Ensemble musikFabrik

Thanks to zappateers, once again an audience recording of a FINE performance of the music of Frank Zappa is available also to the people in the world who could not be in Amsterdam on the 20th of February 2014. The venue in question was Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ, the FINE musicians are those of the Ensemble musikFabrik, the FINE drummer Dirk Rothbrust, and finally the FINE conductor Marco Blaauw. The quality of the recording is overall good, being an audience one. Beside the distorted beginning of The Black Page 1, the only real problem is with the strings, unfortunately quite distant.

The concert included the music of three American composers. Varèse was born in France actually, but he is considered to be part of the American musical culture. Here is the program:

Edgard Varèse – Ionisation
John Cage – Amores
John Cage – Credo in Us
Frank Zappa – The Black Page 1, 2
Frank Zappa – RDNZL
Frank Zappa – Echidna’s Arf (Of You)
Frank Zappa – Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?
Frank Zappa – Peaches en Regalia (encore)

The full concert program in Dutch (with the list of the musicians) is digitally available through the Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ web site. (Anyone willing to translate into English the Zappa section?)

Also, @musikFabrik posted via twitter some Amsterdam pictures and a couple of tasty Vine videos.

Ensemble musikFabrik - American Mavericks Tour - Amsterdam - Muziekgebouw aan't IJ - Feb 20, 2014 - dress rehearsal

Ensemble musikFabrik – American Mavericks Tour – Amsterdam – Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ – Feb 20, 2014 – dress rehearsal


Varèse siren


Zappa string soundcheck


The concert opened with Ionisation, a FZ favorite, in his own words, see the famous Stereo Review 1971 article. The percussive strength of musikFabrik is already on display. Right after, two John Cage compositions showed an Ensemble at ease with unusual tones and prepared instruments. The percussive nature of the compositions once again come out, also during the frequent low dynamic sections.

Then the Zappa performances followed, and the really good news of this project is that the drums swing and have a central role in the orchestrations. This should be an obvious option for The Black Page, and should be evident too for the rest of the FZ program, but in spite of this, the musikFabrik renditions are among the few attempts to render the richness of the drums and percussion arrangements conceived by FZ in the 70′s. Particularly, during ’73-’74, and maybe at their best in the two drummers period: October ’73 – May ’74.

A convincing performance emerges from the audience tape, it seems that the energy of the originals reached the audience. The Ensemble musikFabrik delivered a fluid and rhythmically tight execution, just very few and tiny details needed to be smoothed. For sure the following concerts in Kiel (Feb 21) and Bristol (Feb 23) went even better. As perfectly known to the mankind, the more you play such music the better you are going to reach the Zappa standard.

Considering such a percussion appetite, a next step for the Ensemble musikFabrik would be to take into account FZ orchestrations for two drums set. In this direction it will be for sure appropriate, as well as auspicious, to listen to the forthcoming Roxy by Proxy, and to watch to his future video companion (both of them, the long awaited follow-up to Roxy & Elsewhere).

Roxy by Proxy cover as anticipated by Barfko-Swill

Roxy by Proxy cover as anticipated by Barfko-Swill

Also intriguing is to imagine a musikFabrik orchestration of the opening sequence of Road Tapes, Venue #2. As already said in this blog, this sequence sounds truly suitable for orchestras like this.

As far as what is recorded on their web site, the Ensemble musikFabrik performs Zappa since 2009 (they also have Big Swifty and T’Mershi Duween in repertoire), hopefully more will follow!

And it would be also great if some more recordings of this short three dates American Mavericks tour will emerge. The Harry Partch performances included in the other two concerts should have been also highly entertaining. The pictures shared via twitter on February 21 and 23 by @musikFabrik show a sumptuous Partch set.

A final note about the title of this post, which quotes the rap a distinguished member of the Ensemble delivered as the intro to Black Page part 2. Of course a paraphrase of the famous Zappa in New York “statistical density” discourse. The Amsterdam audience caught it!


Ali N. Askin, arranger (and sometime also copyst) for Yellow Shark and other Zappa projects, sent a short note concerning the musikFabrik project. This blog is glad to include it also here. Thank you Ali!

From: Ali N. Askin
To: Francesco G.
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2014 22:55:48 +0100
Subject: MusikFabrik

Hi Francesco,

I just read your nice blog entry about the MusikFabrik in Amsterdam. I would like to add that these are my arrangements which I did for them back in 2006. The first show included Morgan Ågren and Mats Oberg …


"Frank e il resto del mondo" by Alessandra Izzo, Armando Curcio Editore

“Frank e il resto del mondo” by Alessandra Izzo, Armando Curcio Editore


On December 4, 2013 a peculiar book of stories and feelings related to Frank Zappa has been published in Italy: “Frank e il resto del mondo” by Alessandra Izzo. The author, who came to know the musician in 1982, interviewed an assorted group of persons who have met Zappa for different reasons and in diverse circumstances. The book starts with Alessandra’s personal account, then all the interviews follow, with a short profile of the interviewees.

As expected, a complex picture emerges, some of the persons involved had a chance for a bright relationship with the musician, others didn’t manage to go much beyond the surface, but there is at least one common trait: when the life paths of all these persons joined the Zappa roads, something truly special happened, and marked a significant influence to their life.

The book has not been translated into other languages yet, so this blog asked Alessandra Izzo to reproduce a quote from her own account and from every interview. She has kindly accepted!


Alessandra Izzo (the author)
I have never forget that first evening and that light conversation, so unique. All in all, our souls were at the same time close and far, however we didn’t meet by chance. Yes, it is true, I was the one who tried to get in touch, but I knew the encounter was going to be special. That night FZ thought me how to forgive, but it needed a lot of years to learn and follow his suggestions. To this day, I thank him with all my heart.

Alessandra Izzo, photo by Andrea Sabatello

Alessandra Izzo, photo by Andrea Sabatello

Patrice “Candy” Zappa (Frank’s sister, musician and author)
My brother was the funniest person on the planet and he had the most witty, beautiful and contagious laugh I have ever known so far.

Bunk Gardner (musician)
Frank was a very talented composer, he had such a great sense of humor and a huge creative streak that could get into everything he did.

Essra Mohawk (musician)
The Mothers had that talent, that strange chemistry, and this was however, largely due to their band leader, Frank Zappa.

Fabio Treves (musician)
His voice, the pauses in his expression, his distinctive way of speaking that definitely reach the heart of a person, and also his slang, his neologisms, all these traits still strike me.

Ferdinando Boero (biologist)
An extremely serious person who always wanted to laugh.

Claudio Trotta (book agent)
It was like dealing with a flooding river, he was overwhelming but in a positive, vital, stimulating sense, he was always a source of inspiration, without a doubt a person to emulate.

Massimo Bassoli (editor)
Among all the people I know, I believe Frank was the one who was better able to enjoy the company of his own imagination.

Ed Mann (musician)
I love Frank, I always miss him. He had an extraordinary electric quality about him that caused me to excel in ways that I had never dreamed of. Playing with him on stage was more fun than any other band I have worked with.

Pamela Des Barres (former rock and roll groupie, author and magazine writer)
What I loved most about Frank was the skill to bring out of every person the BEST, kind of demanding you confess your dreams, your goals, your things, even the more private and intimate.

Rutger Hauer (actor)
I loved him. All parts of him. His mustache. His heavy smoke. His smile.

Ike Willis (musician)
I had LOTS of fun. We laughed a great deal of the time. Frank was the funniest person in the world.


Rutger Hauer and Alessandra Izzo in June 2009

Rutger Hauer and Alessandra Izzo in June 2009


As a further tribute to the man from Baltimore, Alessandra sent two little seen pictures shot by Fausto Franceschini at the August 31, 1973 concert in Rome. Thank you Alessandra!


Frank Zappa, Rome, August 31, 1973, photo by Fausto Franceschini

Frank Zappa, Rome, August 31, 1973, photo by Fausto Franceschini


Joe’s Camouflage

Posted: February 7, 2014 in album review, zappa
Frank Zappa, Joe's Camouflage, Vaulternative Records, 2014

Frank Zappa, Joe’s Camouflage, Vaulternative Records, 2014

Probably the most amusing Joe installment to date, Joe’s Camouflage combines high appeal for zappaphiles and hard-core listeners of any kind (including resentment ones), with good sound quality, for the most part. Previous episodes in this very special nuggets saga have been always of some interest (the social group quickly depicted above needs all of them for sure), however sometimes not fully enjoyable because of a low-fi sound. Joe’s Domage for instance, is of a great interest concerning the rehearsal process of the Petit Wazoo band and, although short, includes a beautiful unreleased composition, namely Another Whole Melodic Section, also known as Interlude to that social group, performed live by the MOI in 1969. However the low sound quality keeps this object away from digital audio converters for long periods, and it’s a real pity. But Camouflage no, there is a lot new to hear, and all of it is in good stereo, from analog 4 tracks source. Some material derives from Denny Walley’s mono rehearsal cassettes, but luckily it is not the most interesting part, and it’s enjoyable. In a few words, a great ZFT/Joe Travers job, thank you for bringing to existence this otherwise undocumented line-up, who here gives shape to some unreleased music, in a very relaxed studio environment.

The band in question stayed together in 1975 for a short period and never toured. They were: Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals); Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, vocals); Robert “Frog” Camarena (guitar, vocals); Denny Walley (slide guitar, vocals); Novi Novog (viola, vocals); Roy Estrada (bass, vocals), Terry Bozzio (drums); André Lewis (keyboards, vocals, a “special mention” in the booklet). Novi Novog is the only musician who didn’t have other chances with a Zappa band, four of them (Lewis, NMB, Estrada and Bozzio) where in the next Zappa live quintet, if you are part of that social group, you instantly imagine this band live instead of the well-known 1975 live quintet.

The album starts off with the first unreleased piece, in a first take: Phyonix, a quasi-prog effort, keyboards and bass on duty for a linear march cadenza, Bozzio to break the rhythm in pieces, Zappa to improvise with him. Amazing guitar/drums interplay. The stereo image of the guitar sometimes jumps from left to right, reinforcing the ’70s character of the tune.

Then T’Mershi Duween follows, in an arrangement similar to the one to be presented live a few months later with a different intro, never used in previous (’74) and later versions (’88 and ’91). On October 1, 1975 in Vancouver (BC, Canada) FZ presented the tune as an idea of a “close short friend” (i.e. Moon Zappa) of him who said T’Mershi Duween was The Queen of the Desert, “and I believed her!”.

Very close to the spirit of The Queen is Reeny Ra, the other unreleased piece, that after the exposition of the main theme morphs for a little while into Solitude, a love song that left few marks during the 1980 rehearsals.

Here is a 76k .mp3 sample of this song from the 1980 rehearsals, courtesy of Jon Naurin, via IINK.

After that the main theme, followed by a guitar solo with quotes from T’Mershi Duween, then again the theme for the closing. The whole thing is truly amazing.

In the following spoken track someone asks “What’s this song called”, Zappa answers “it’s two songs, T’Mershi Duween and Reeny Ra“, in this phase of their development they were probably supposed to form a sequence. Another studio audio environment track comes next, musicians seems to discuss about a broken instrument, in a relaxed mood.

Then the band again with Honey, Don’t You Want A Man Like Me? from the Walley mono rehearsal tapes, in the classic 1975 arrangement. Vocals are buried in the foreground and slide guitar is pushed really forward, it’s like sneaking the tune from Danny Walley’s shoulders! Not the best moment in Camouflage maybe, but entertaining.

Back to stereo for The Illinois Enema Bandit. Zappa is building the 1975 arrangement, slower in this version which unfortunately stops before the guitar solo section. A great vocal performance of Napoleon though, this take emphasizes the vocal potential of the song.

A short break into the mono Walley tapes, for Sleep Dirt – In Rehearsal, just a fragment but moving as usual, thank you Joe for letting this 1:08 in too.

Stereo is back for Black Napkins, the way we know it, with Novi for the first solo. Second solo is for Frank, a quite extended and tense one, a great chance to listen to a studio guitar improvisation from the ’70s, quite a rare episode.

Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance for the next number, the classic 1975 reggae arrangement, Napoleon front man.

Two further Walley cassette cuts follow, the first a brief chat between Walley and Camarena, the second includes a short fragment from Swallow My Pride, an unreleased song from the 1975 September/December tour.

Any Downers? comes after, in stereo, it is the 1975 arrangement but unfortunately without the usual long guitar solo, just a few bars to close the number. The Zappa catalog missed this version for too long.

Phyonix (Take 2) follows, no stereo tricks here (sounds better to me), and a little step ahead for the arrangement towards the end (3:44), where a truly appropriate chord change occurs, opening the mood for the closing. Great guitar/drums interplay again (note that Zappa asks to “put some of the guitar in Terry’s monitor” at the beginning). Hats off everybody!

Another studio environment document for the finale, funny dialogues about someone complaining for the noise, typical garage rehearsals folklore!

This album is going to be played a lot and calls for a live companion from the 1975 September/December tour. It would be nice early in that leg, a performance including this version of T’Mershi Duween, Swallow My Pride and the extended Any Downers?. Hopefully a next Road Tapes release.

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Denny Walley, Frank Zappa, Terry Bozzio, Novi Novog, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Robert "Frog" Camarena, Roy Estrada

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Denny Walley, Frank Zappa, Terry Bozzio, Novi Novog, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Robert “Frog” Camarena, Roy Estrada

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Robert "Frog" Camarena, Roy Estrada, Frank Zappa, Novi Novog, Terry Bozzio, Denny Walley, Napoleon Murphy Brock

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Robert “Frog” Camarena, Roy Estrada, Frank Zappa, Novi Novog, Terry Bozzio, Denny Walley, Napoleon Murphy Brock