Perfect Strangers

Posted: August 12, 2014 in fz related album review, zappa
Heiner Goebbels & Frank Zappa, Perfect Strangers, The Norwegian Radio Orchestra conducted by Thomas Søndergård, LAWO classics, 2014

Heiner Goebbels & Frank Zappa, Perfect Strangers, The Norwegian Radio Orchestra conducted by Thomas Søndergård, LAWO classics, 2014

Without particularly focusing on Zappa for a moment, Perfect Strangers is a great album, this is the one thing to say first from a highly biased Zappa blog. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra conducted by Thomas Søndergård plays with energy and self-confidence. The program is well balanced, although Heiner Goebbels music may be sometimes associated with minimalism, it has a progressive attitude. The pieces are classics for both composers. The sound is powerful and almost always clear, also considering that it is reported to be a live recording (at Rockfeller Concert Hall in Oslo, February 11, 2010). The result sounds warmer than some Goebbels ECM recordings, and way more powerful than the 1984 Boulez Zappa album, especially as far as the percussion section is concerned. The LAWO classics album is printed on a Hybrid Stereo/Multichannel SACD medium. Finally, it has a great cover and booklet design and pictures.

Perfect Strangers: such a title probably suggests that Goebbels and Zappa should be both way more known than they are, the first often considered “harder” than he really is, the second too much a rock star than a real composer (if you mount the Yellow Shark or The Perfect Stranger cds in your pc with iTunes, it will give “Indie Rock” as genre, courtesy of Gracenote Media Database). In summary a great production by LAWO classics, whom has issued The Mission, an album by The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, also known for a great Zappa tribute: The Brass from Utopia, on this blog too.

And there are some more Zappa Elective Affinities to report, concerning Heiner Goebbels, as far as Ensembles and conductors. The Ensemble Modern often plays and has recorded his music, and the reference album for Surrogate Cities (full score) is an ECM production with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie conducted by Peter Rundel (see Yellow Shark), featuring David Moss on vocals (see Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions).

Back to the LAWO classics album, Suite for Sampler and Orchestra from Surrogate Cities is a Goebbels 1994 composition that has been executed also in 2012 and 2014 after the Oslo recording. It is highly recommended for Zapp-o-philes fond of the darkest Synclavier works (no room for irony here) and with a taste for bizarre pastorals. The suite recalls composer early works with the prog-rock trio Cassiber (1982-92) with Christoph Anders and Chris Cutler.

And here is the Zappa program:

The Dog Breath Variations / Uncle Meat 5:17 (YS: 5:31)
Dupree’s Paradise 8:19 (TPS: 7:52)
The Perfect Stranger 13:01  (TPS: 12:42)
G-Spot Tornado 3:41 (YS: 3:28)
Revised Music for Low Budget Orchestra 7:01 (GP&OP: 7:37)

The first time durations mentioned are the LAWO classics cd ones (in the case of Low Budget it does not count 1:15 of applause), the others in brackets refer to the reference versions, with the FZ album titles given as acronyms. If you compare those timings you will notice that they are comparable, and so the renditions are. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra conducted by Thomas Søndergård deliver a solid and warm performance, and thanks to the sound quality of the recording, they give a new light to Dupree’s Paradise and The Perfect Stranger.

Also concerning sound, Karl Erik Sylthe wrote a review of the album for audiophile.no. He says:

I feel subjectively that there is a difference in the amount of reverb from Goebbels’s Suite and Zappa’s works. According to documentation, both are recorded at Rockefeller in 2010, and it’s probably the same event. Nevertheless, I find that while the reverb works perfectly on Goebbels’s works, there are a couple of Zappa’s works where there is a tad too much reverb, leading to that the precision of the highly demanding works depends entirely clear. This is present on Dog Breath Variations and G-Spot Tornado.

I also feel something didn’t go perfectly right particularly with G-Spot Tornado and maybe also with Dog/Meat. But I do not think it is a matter of reverb, rather I think that the mid-range response is not as good and balanced as the one related to the high and low frequencies. The result is that wind instruments are not as clear as woodwind instruments for instance. However percussion instruments sound great and, as already noticed, the overall sound is powerful and warm.

Compared with the Zappa reference recordings it is interesting to notice how the 21 years old Yellow Shark recording remains a reference having a more balanced mid-range response. On the other hand the 30 years old The Perfect Stranger recording sounds more distant and with much less detail. Finally the 12 years old Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions sounds as good as this one.

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The above mentioned cds have been played on two different stereo systems (not exactly high-end, but quite nice ones).

Goldenote Koala CD Player
Blue Note S1 Integrated Amplifier
Monitor Audio Silver-RS8 loudspeakers

Cambridge Audio Azur 550C CD Player
Cambridge Audio Azur 550A Integrated Amplifier
Canton Ergo 602 loudspeakers / Denon AH-D2000 headphones

I could not play the multichannel LAWO classics SACD.

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A final note. As for today (August 2014) there is not a specific entry for this album on the LAWO classic web site, however check it out later, booklets are usually available as pdf files.

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Zappa Plays Zappa w\Napoleon Murphy Brock, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Zappa Plays Zappa w\Napoleon Murphy Brock, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Zappa Plays Zappa, Tour de Frank, May 28, 2006, Rome, Centrale del Tennis.

Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Aaron Arntz, Pete Griffin, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Aaron Arntz, Pete Griffin, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, May 28, 2006, Rome (photo: spaziofermo)

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setlist

Help I’m A Rock
Hungry Freaks Daddy
Let’s Take The Water Turn Black
Florentine Pogen
Pygmy Twylyte
The Idiot Bastard Son
Cheepnis
King Kong
Imaginary Diseases
Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow
St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast
Inca Roads
Tha Black Page #1
The Black Page #2 (Steve Vai joins the band)
Peaches En Regalia
Montana
Village Of The Sun
Echidna’s Arf
Zomby Woof
Sofa #2

Encores
Oh No
Son Of Orange County
More Trouble Every Day
A Token Of My Extreme outro

Zappa plays Zappa
Dweezil Zappa: guitar
Aaron Arntz: keyboards & trumpet
Scheila Gonzalez: saxophone, flute, keyboards & vocals
Pete Griffin: bass
Billy Hulting: marimba, mallets & percussion
Jamie Kime: guitar
Joe Travers: drums & vocals

Guests
Napoleon Murphy Brock: vocals, saxophone & flute
Steve Vai: guitar
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Zappa as a visual artist

Posted: May 26, 2014 in visual arts, zappa
Frank Zappa, Untitled, 1967, etching for an album artwork (from the exhibition "The Art of Hard Rock", Rome, September 2011)

Frank Zappa, Untitled, 1967, etching for an album artwork (from the exhibition “The Art of Hard Rock”, Rome, September 2011)

In 2011/2012 the exhibition “The Art of Hard Rock” toured Europe “to celebrate 40 years of Hard Rock Cafe“. “40 pieces of art by artists such as: Michael Jackson, Pete Townshend, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Billy Idol, Lou Reed and more.”

The exhibition included a painting (supposedly?) by Frank Zappa, with the tag “Untitled, etching for an album artwork” (see above).

Here is a relevant pinterest page from the Cologne Hard Rock Cafe.

On September 2011 “The Art of Hard Rock” was on display in Rome, at Chiostro del Bramante. Here are two more pictures of “Untitled” I took at the Chiostro, unfortunately the glass reflected a little bit.

Frank Zappa, Untitled, 1967, etching for an album artwork (from the exhibition "The Art of Hard Rock", Rome, September 2011)

Frank Zappa, Untitled, 1967, etching for an album artwork (from the exhibition “The Art of Hard Rock”, Rome, September 2011)

Frank Zappa, Untitled, 1967, etching for an album artwork (detail, from the exhibition "The Art of Hard Rock", Rome, September 2011)

Frank Zappa, Untitled, 1967, etching for an album artwork (detail, from the exhibition “The Art of Hard Rock”, Rome, September 2011)

The second one is a detail where “December 1967, Mothers Segment” can be read near the FZ sign. I’m not sure about the word “segment” actually, any other clue?

For other information about FZ as a visual artist, go to the “Frank Zappa Paintings & Drawings” page, at the Information Is Not Knowledge web site.

Concerning the “Drum Shop” collage (already mentioned in this blog), a History Detectives video (from season 10 of the PBS TV show) is really worth watching. The Zappa segment starts at 37:54.

Frank Zappa, Drum Shop, late 1950s/early 1960s, ink,  watercolors and collage

Frank Zappa, Drum Shop, late 1950s/early 1960s, ink, watercolors and collage

Towards the end of video, the detective meets Gail Zappa at the Professional Drum Shop in Hollywood, a Zappa favorite since the 60s. At 49:53 Gail shows a picture of Bob Yeager, one of the founders of the shop in 1959, with a sport jacket really similar to the one wore by the main character on the right side of the collage! Gail also says “for Frank music was visual. And that’s how he saw music. Like, mobiles, you know, floating, things crossing each other.” Once Again the Calder mobile analogy from the The Real Frank Zappa Book, already mentioned in this blog (in the RAMME’s ZAPPA post). The script to the Zappa episode is available as a pdf file through the PBS web site.

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“The most important thing in art is the frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively – because, without this humble appliance, you can’t know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a “box” around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?”

Frank Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book, page 140, Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso, 1989 —

From the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln – Freunde facebook page

From the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln – Freunde facebook page

On May 4, 2014 WDR Sinfonieorchester conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer performed music by John Adams, Bernhard Gander, Hans Abrahamsen, Steve Reich, Frank Zappa and György Ligeti. The concert belongs to the “Acht Brücken Festivals” and has been titled “Musik der Zeit: Stop Nonstop”. The program has been defined upon a fascination for technique and pace (“Das Programm lebt von der Faszination für Technik und Tempo”, from the WDR Sinfonieorchester web pages). Here it is in detail:

Soloists:
Tamara Stefanovich: piano
Dirk Rothbrust: drums
Thorsten Johanns: clarinet
Nicola Jürgensen: clarinet

Studierende der Musikhochschulen NRW
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln

Jonathan Stockhammer: conductor

John Adams
Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986)
Fanfare for Orchestra

Bernhard Gander
Orchannibal Corpse (2013)
for Orchestra
commissioned by WDR
world premiere

Steve Reich
New York Counterpoint (1985)
for clarinet and tape or 11 clarinets
(11 clarinets version)

Hans Abrahamsen
Concerto for piano and orchestra (1999/2000)

Frank Zappa
Four pieces for drums solo and Orchestra
arranged by Andrew Digby and Hubert Steiner (2014)
world premiere

György Ligeti
San Francisco Polyphony (1973-74)
for orchestra

An mp3 recording of the concert has been available for streaming for 30 days starting May 4 through a WDR3 web site (the link was here).

Of course I’m going to concentrate on the Zappa performance, but the whole concert deserves attention, the program has its own coherence, and presents some classics and less known pieces. The Gander premiere, for instance, effectively combines powerful orchestra blasts with low dynamics passages. There is a careful use of dissonance in a context where rhythmic references are always clear. Gander is known to possess a great pop background, heavy metal being one of his favorites, hence probably the “hard-dark” nature of the piece.

It would be interesting to ask Frank Zappa about such a program, since it is well known that he was not very fond of most 80s minimalism. As he said to Florindo Volpacchio (“The Mother of All Interviews: Zappa on Music and Society”, Telos, Spring, 1991):

“Minimalism, I think, is a perfect form of music to express the spiritual condition of the 80s.”

And here is what’s behind 4 Stücke fur Solodrummer und Orchester (4 pieces for drums solo and Orchestra, timings refer to the mp3 WDR3 recording):

1:25:57 – 1:29:45 (3:48) – Aerobics in Bondage
1:30:12 – 1:32:59 (1:47) – Navanax
1:33:27 – 1:36:08 (2:41) – Naval Aviation in Art?
1:36:32 – 1:42:21 (5:49) – Put a Motor in Yourself

And these are the timings for the respective reference versions (album title in parentheses):

Aerobics in Bondage
3:23 (Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention)
Navanax
1:40 (Civilization Phaze III)
Naval Aviation in Art?
1:22 (Orchestral Favorites)
2:45 (The Perfect Stranger)
2:28 (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions)
Put a Motor in Yourself
5:13 (Civilization Phaze III)
5:20 (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions)

As far as I know, Aerobics in Bondage and Navanax have been executed by a human ensemble here for the first time, and thanks to the arrangers and the Orchestra, they reveal a great acoustic impact. In both pieces the “quasi-solo” (as defined by the speaker) drums parts are in evidence and give them a peculiar sound. The Naval Aviation in Art? arrangement is directly related to those presented by the Ensemble Intercontemporain (Boulez) in 1984 and by the Ensemble Modern (Stockhammer) in 2002, these three version have similar durations but slightly different orchestrations. For instance, it is interesting to note that this arrangement goes back to the Orchestral Favorites 1975 recording for the beginning, with the very first notes played by winds instead of the full strings start of both 1984 and 2002 versions. On a first listen, the arrangement of Put a Motor in Yourself sounds close to the Ensemble Modern one, i.e. it is quite loyal to the original. However Andrew Digby and Hubert Steiner introduced a lot of variations in the orchestration. To mention an evident one, there are neither synthesizer nor electric bass. A more defined recording would reveal much more details. The drums arrangement of this version is also distinctive, as far as the approach and general sound are concerned, Dirk Rothbrust often plays as for a progressive band, taking all related risks. During the first minute of the performance not everything went well, but later on the piece goes as fluid as the original, and with powerful drumming.

Andrew Digby and Hubert Steiner work with the music of Frank Zappa since 2007 at least, being members of Ensemble Ascolta who has a well known Zappa project in repertoire (will it ever become an album?). Jonathan Stockhammer is a renowned conductor and was in charge with the Ensemble Modern for the Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions album. Conceiving an effective approach for the drums, an instrument that has a lead role in the whole production of the man from Baltimore, and delivering a solid performance, the arrangers, the director and the Orchestra designed a short but relevant Zappa episode worth to be known and continued.

This is particularly good news, if compared to a 2011 Rome concert, a project far below any expectation that involved both Stockhammer and Steiner, and that cause me to shout this blog.

Considering the release of Roxy by Proxy, the percussion oriented performances of Ensemble musicFabrik and this “Technik und Tempo” WDR Sinfonieorchester execution, 2014 seems a good year for Zappa and the drums.

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Frank Zappa, Drum Shop, late 1950s/early 1960s, ink,  watercolors and collage

Frank Zappa, Drum Shop, late 1950s/early 1960s, ink, watercolors and collage

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LANCASTER, CA - CIRCA 1957: Frank Zappa plays drums with his first band 'The Blackouts'; (clockwise from the bottom right) Wayne Lyles (on bongos), Dwight Bennett, Ernie Thomas, Terry Wimberley (on piano), John Franklin, Frank Zappa (on drums) [gettyimages.com]

LANCASTER, CA – CIRCA 1957: Frank Zappa plays drums with his first band ‘The Blackouts'; (clockwise from the bottom right) Wayne Lyles (on bongos), Dwight Bennett, Ernie Thomas, Terry Wimberley (on piano), John Franklin, Frank Zappa (on drums) [gettyimages.com]

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MOTHERS DAY 2014

Posted: May 10, 2014 in album review, visual arts, zappa

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Two new download only tracks are available at Barfko-Swill ($1,99 mp3 or $2,99 FLAC, each).

Zoot Allures (6:12)
Cosmik Debris (8:12)

More info at zappa.com.

Zoot Allures 1982
Frank Zappa: lead guitar
Ray White: guitar
Steve Vai: guitar
Scott Thunes: bass
Chad Wackerman: drums (overdubbed at UMRK)
Bobby Martin: keys
Tommy Mars: keys
Ed Mann: percussion

Zappateer pbuzby noted that “Zappa’s solo in Zoot Allures is from 1982 06 18 London”. Great sound! The solo grows upon a relaxed rhythmic support. The fade out is the cruelest part of the song, as it is in the original!

Post Scriptum (May 13, 2014): a further note from Zappateer boguspomp
Good ears Flam,
ZA goes as follows:
0 – 59.03 19th early,
59.03 – 1.04.05 Frankfurt late,
1.04.05 – 2.04.62 19th early,
2.04.62 – 2.52.45 Frankfurt late again,
Rest 18th.
All times are approximate!

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Cosmik Debris 1973
Finlandia Hall, Helsinki
Frank Zappa: lead vocal, guitar
George Duke: keys
Ruth Underwood: percussion
Bruce Fowler: trombone
Jen Luc Ponty: violin
Ian Underwood: woodwinds, synth
Tom Fowler: bass

From the same concerts released as Road Tapes, Venue #2, “a song about a guru who maybe visiting you!”. Unfortunately the vocal track is a little bit distorted and winds seem too low in the mix, but the rest is great and relaxed too.

Two excerpts from the guitar solos to the two songs are available through the Barfko-Swill shop. Here are the direct links:
Zoot Allures (1982) excerpt
Cosmik Debris (1973) excerpt

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Lastly, a memorabilia from the 90s, it is a Mother’s Day card by Cal Schenkel. Unfortunately only low quality images are available on the net.

Mother's Day by Cal Schenkel, a 1995 RYKO card

Mother’s Day by Cal Schenkel, a 1995 RYKO card

Mother's Day by Cal Schenkel, a 1995 RYKO card

Mother’s Day by Cal Schenkel, a 1995 RYKO card

Mother's Day by Cal Schenkel, a 1995 RYKO card

Mother’s Day by Cal Schenkel, a 1995 RYKO card

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

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

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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

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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

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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 zappa.com. 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!
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