Fish Eats Stratocaster | Mark Beam


Part one – The Spectre

All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise the Yellow Shark: Biennale Musica (the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Music), Philharmonie de Paris, ROMAEUROPA Festival (in association with Accademia Teatro alla Scala of Milan and Fondazione Musica per Roma), to quote some, and you may also bump into German Ensemble Modern secret agents and the Resentment Listener too.

Two things result from this fact:

I. Zappa is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.

II. It is high time that Zappa hard-core fanatics should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Yellow Shark with a Manifesto, in the high hope that future Zappa performances will meet their Zappa obsessed criteria.

To this end, FZ maniacs of various nationalities need to assemble somewhere, maybe in London, and sketch their Shark Manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and and all the other European languages. A draft follows.

1 Rehearsals time

If an Institution came across the idea of performing a Zappa program, the Orchestra or the Ensemble shall rehearse at least two working weeks, 8 hours per day.

2 Eyebrows

The first week or so is to learn the program, the second one is get acquainted with it, where the last two days of the last week shall be devoted to the eyebrows: every musician shall give her or his own contribution to “style” the music, the Zappa way, by means of her or his own skills and persona. The Director shall conduct the styling phaze, by means of a maieutic approach towards the musicians. They may not know exactly who they are in the Zappaverse, the Director shall explore human behaviour and related possibilities.

3 Amplification

Zappa orchestrations almost always rely upon microphones, the composer defied musical language barriers, often inside a single composition that may features a fusion of electric and acoustic elements. Unless you are considering a pure chamber / acoustic program (that would be too biased to be the Zappa way), you need to amplify your Ensemble.

4 Have a bunch of Zappa nights

At least three different live events shall be scheduled, and a video shooting to be (web)broadcasted should be considered, it shall be a hell of a project, no one-shot-deals admitted.

5 Ponder a name for the project

You may want to give your own tribute to The Yellow Shark, of course you should, especially if your program is the album playlist. If it is not that case, consider that it has been the moniker of some successful nights way back early in the nineties; Germans where involved, they love that Shark, the composer loved the way they loved it. Now, who do you love? and/or, what’s your favorite color? If it is a furry animal which delivers a Zappa reference with a living color, you may want to go for it, if it barks from a Zappaverse with a pink napkin on a side, you may want to show your way. A Poodle with a pink coat could work, for instance, good for you if a local artist has done one for you to bring it on the stage. Nevertheless, if you are into Yellow Shark, consider alternatives to bringing on stage any bootleg cardboard yellow images of a last century shark simulacrum, that would look like “visible nylon strings attached to the jaw of a giant spider“, if you know what it means! Consider bringing new stuff into old stuff. Patch the old stuff. Hack and name it!

6 Improvised section

Design a mid-concert semi-conducted section, preferably based upon some internal jokes developed during the eyebrows week, it shall include some FZ fragments but may also include music and sounds from other sources. It shall not be fair or clownesque. If you want to go buffoonery, at least be mean and ugly. Food gathering in post- industrial America and Welcome in the United States are obvious references, you may go for some variations, you may go for something completely different (watch some Monty Python and Brazil, you may get the answers).

7 Encores

If G-Spot Tornado closes the regular program of your choice – and it may do – it is the easiest choice for an encore (it happens all the time), no surprises here! Apparently Dog/Meat (especially the Dog segment) maybe challenging, it is an old favorite, it is a good candidate, especially if it is more than one hour ago. However it can be time to add something new, a few bars of Whipping Post would perfectly fit, for instance. It is encore time, if you are a fine Institution, it is your chance to go crazy, and if you are in middle of a tour, you will love one chance more to go crazy!

8 Seriousness

It is not a matter of serious music, it is entertainment, and entertainment is a serious matter, you need to solve a lot of problems for your entertainment to be effective, you need to be really serious in those statutory two weeks of rehearsals, and while performing too, even when it is the case of going crazy.

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Part Two – The Struggle

Since his really early days, Frank Zappa was actively involved in writing orchestral music. The first recorded attempt of a performance was in 1963: on May 19 he presented “The Experimental Music Of Frank Zappa” at Mount St. Mary’s College, LA. Excerpts from this event are available in the 1996 posthumous – though FZ produced – collection The Lost Episodes, that also includes parts of the original orchestral soundtrack of “Run Home, Slow” (1964).

Those were the days when he formed the first Mothers, but in the meantime he was continuing writing scores, and shortly after started a long struggle with Symphony Orchestra Institutions: low budgets, inadequate rehearsal time, a cancelled project also, due to explicit lyrics (1971, Albert Hall, London; Zappa gives a detailed account of the lawsuit that followed in The Real Frank Zappa Book, Chapter 7 Drool, Britannia). The story of the music for 200 Motels is truly exemplifying (somewhere else in this site: 200 Motels – a 50 year timeline).

“Not Albert Hall material”, “you could say it was connected with sex”, “rather silly schoolboysh words” are some of the comments given in 1971 by Albert Hall personnel in this clip (from a BBC Archive tweet).



Later in the early eighties, Zappa made one of his last attempts to deal with the human element, his way (shortly after, in the second half of the eighties, he made a digital U-turn: Synclavier!). He tried hard hiring a solid Institution, the London Symphony Orchestra, and a fine conductor, Kent Nagano, through an auto-financed budget. He knew it was hardly going to be a financial success, but he wanted the proper Institution involvement, and, maybe more importantly, a good amount of rehearsals/performing time: eventually parts agreed upon eight days.

Towards the end of this short clip about the LSO project, Zappa explains the “economics”!



Also, John Lawley, LSO oboist, recalled:

There were 12 extra rehearsals before the concert day running from Jan 7-10, with a Barbican concert on the 11th January. I can’t think of any other project that has had anywhere near that many rehearsals! We then had 6 sessions in Twickenham after all this so it was given an extraordinary amount of time.

The schedule went as follows:

Rehearsals sessions:
Abbey Road Studio One, London, January 7–10, 1983
Barbican, London, January 11, 1983
Recording Sessions:
Twickenham Film Studios, London, January 12–14, 1983

The Real Frank Zappa Book includes a sharp and bitter account of the relationship with LSO. Also, in the liner notes of LSO II, He wrote (for Strictly Genteel):

The performance included here was recorded in the last hour of the last session of the last night . . . with no possibility of overtime (at any price) to correct mistakes. During the final ‘rest period’ just before the big push to get a good take, the entire trumpet section decided to visit a pub across the street. They returned 15 minutes late. No recording could be done without them. The orchestra refused to spend another 15 minutes at the end of the session to make up for their glowing brass section neighbors. I have done as much as possible to enhance this fine British ‘craftmanship’ (at least 50 edits in 6:53), but, to no avail . . . the ‘human element’ remains intact.

(For a large collection of interviews on the Orchestras matters, please refer to “London Symphony Orchestra Vols. I & II | Notes & Comments“.)

Eventually he produced two albums (now a double CD, LSO), we may assume that he was somewhat satisfied. Hence eight days of rehearsal/performing time with the composer were somewhat enough, but the project has been at risk, according to the Zappa standard.

That said, the digital U-turn then took place (we need to jump on this very interesting matter now) nevertheless, early in the nineties, while he was immersed in a project that later took the shape of Civilization Phaze III, the composer met the Ensemble Modern. To make a long story short, it was the beginning of a new era that unfortunately started when he was going to leave everyone forever.

The Ensemble Modern and the composer established a unique relationship, in short the Ensemble almost was his new band!

Two albums (The Yellow Shark and Everything is Healing Nicely), parts in Civilization Phase III, videos from the 1992 performances and from the rehearsals, go for all these documents and you will realize how tight was their relationship.

A special hooray for Ali N. Askin, the Copyst/Orchestrator/Arranger for the The Yellow Shark, for 200 Motels – The Suites (performed in 2000 at Holland Festival) and for 2003 Ensemble Modern FZ sequel, Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions.

Ali took part in Zappologies conferences during the September 2018 Zappa week-end in Paris (more about it later), it has been reported (thank you zappateers) that, relating about his involvement in The Yellow Shark, he mentioned that FZ asked him to arrange a solo from the guitar book, a standard procedure the composer put into practice with several members of his bands.

The Ensemble Modern sounded “like a unit”, the Zappa meaning of this expression comes clear from a 1984 interview, here is a relevant excerpt, that also includes further insight about the LSO project:

Then we called the LSO and they said, “Well, we don’t know whether we can do it because we’re just finishing off a film score and the musicians have one week off before they have to do another film score.” And since they get to vote on everything they want to do, they put it to the orchestra and the orchestra members chose to record my stuff rather than take a vacation. They went directly from Return Of The Jedi to my stuff to another film. We had just a certain number of days to do the whole thing, and they were rehearsing their butts off. We had 30 hours of rehearsal for one concert and three days to record.


For an orchestra to sound like a unit, playing something that is totally unfamiliar to them, it has to be rehearsed.


For instance, some of the material I have written would take four weeks of rehearsal – that’s eight hours a day, five days a week. In Europe you could get that, but in the United States you couldn’t afford it. No way. And I’ve had offers from orchestras who want to play my music. They say they’ll give it two days rehearsal, and they make it seem like they’re doing me a favor. Two days? They’re crazy!! I would rather not hear it played at all than to hear it played wrong.

Orchestral Maneuvers
By Bill Milkowski
Modern Recording & Music, August 1984

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Part Three – Live concerts today

On September 28, September 29 and October 6, 7, 10, 12 (2018), several Zappa programs with Yellow Shark in the name has been performed in Venice, Paris and Milan (6, 7), Rome and Reggio Emilia respectively. Also, Frank Zappa. 200 Motels – The Suites, a stage adaptation of 200 Motels, has been performed in Paris for the first time in France on September 30.

The Paris events were part of a Zappa week-end, fully packed of concerts and various activities. It should have been a remarkable budget, also considering the production of a composite stage event like 200 Motels – The Suites (Philharmonie de Paris made a web broadcast, do not miss it, it will be on-line for one year).

The Paris Zappa week-end, included a concert titled Yellow Shark with 3 pieces from that series (Get Whitey, Dog/Meat and G-Spot Tornado), performed by Ensemble Intercontemporain directed by Matthias Pintscher. They also performed Naval Aviation in Art?, Dupree’s Paradise and The Perfect Stranger, “a programme centered around the whimsical, mustachioed musician’s work”, also as a celebration of the 1984 album: Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger. This concert is available on-line too, until September 2019, go for it, it is Ensemble Modern standard.

These are good news from Europe, 6 Yellow Shark dates and a performance of 200 Motels – The Suites in less than two weeks, Zappa music is here, live on stage.

It also good news that a distinguished Institution like the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Music (Biennale Musica) wanted The Yellow Shark to be the opening concert of the 62nd edition, titled Crossing the Atlantic.

From the Festival presentation:
“The Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa, the Golden Lion award to Keith Jarrett, María de Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla, Aliados by Sebastian Rivas, and the Victor Wooten Trio are just some examples of how every type of music can be enriched by the experience of another, can absorb its lesson and return it in new form.”

“The Yellow Shark is considered the highest synthesis of Frank Zappa’s creative intelligence, the expression of a musical thought that ranges freely across all genres, capable of merging orchestral score and improvisation, experimental rock and academic avant-garde, performance and interpretative detail.”

Thanks to the Biennale, the event had a lot of press coverage in Italy and the Festival opening, a complete performance of The Yellow Shark (the album) by Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble (PMCE) conducted by Tonino Battista with the participation of David Moss, has been a success, at least from a communication perspective.


PMCE – Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble | Tonino Battista conductor | David Moss performer
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


There would have been another tiny (or huge) detail to be remembered in such an important Zappa/Venice event, a connection not only related to those fu*ing pigeons (the English for Questi Cazzi di Piccione, one of the Yellow Shark pieces), but also to the environmental issue, one of the most important concerns for the late Frank Zappa.

The recurrent partial flooding of the Venetian lagoon is mentioned by Frank Zappa in the Civilization Phaze III libretto as a symbol of harmful effects of human activity on the environment. Part II of the suite N-Lite is titled Venice Submerged, libretto reads:

The center tableau shows us dancers dressed as Venetian landmark buildings, vanishing beneath waves of childishly grinding “stage water”.

Also, here is a quote from the CPIII libretto for Religious Superstition:

JESUS leans out of the piano and, with a few mystical hand movements, causes the sunken buildings of Venice to re-surface. Rising with them we see large, perversely mutated crabs.

Submerged at the moment by tourists only, Venice hosted at Teatro Goldoni the PMCE, Tonino Battista and David Moss who delivered a very good performance as for the chamber ensemble pieces, especially for those for string section and/or piano(s). Whereas, it seemed that the full Orchestra pieces would have needed some more rehearsal time for the Orchestra to sound like “a unit”.


PMCE – Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble | Tonino Battista conductor | David Moss performer
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Dog/Meat for instance gave a clear example of such an issue. During the Dog section some of the clusters clashed against each other slightly at the wrong time and the brass section took some strange notes. On the other hand the Meat section proceeded on time probably thanks to the main steady beat, as effective guide for the Ensemble.


Tonino Battista | conductor
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


By the way, the Dog/Meat reference arrangement dates back in 1972 (September again!), here is a survived bad recordings of that era. Note that the “The Mothers of Invention/Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo” did not deliver a perfect rendition of the Dog section too, for similar reasons, it must be really challenging! Of course Zappa never released this version.



The Calder mobile metaphor used by Zappa to describe his music is also useful to visualize the issues involved here.

In my compositions, I employ a system of weights, balances, measured tensions and releases — in some ways similar to Varèse’s aesthetic. The similarities are best illustrated by comparison to a Calder mobile: a multicolored whatchamacallit, dangling in space, that has big blobs of metal connected to pieces of wire, balanced ingeniously against little metal dingleberries on the other end. Varèse knew Calder, and was fascinated by these creations.

So, in my case, I say: “A large mass of any material will ‘balance’ a smaller, denser mass of any material, according to the length of the gizmo it’s dangling on, and the ‘balance point’ chosen to facilitate the danglement.” The material being ‘balanced’ includes stuff other than the notes on the paper. If you can conceive of any material as a ‘weight’ and any idea-over-time as a ‘balance,’ you are ready for the next step: the ‘entertainment objects’ that derive from those concepts.

from The Real Frank Zappa Book

Back to Venice, PMCE then played Outrage at Valdez that, as Dog/Meat, did not convince at the beginning, but the Ensemble reunited effectively for the second half of the piece. The first three chamber pieces (Times Beach II, Revised III and The Girl in The Magnesium Dress) followed with good performances of the sections involved (wind, string, and percussion, plectrums and keyboards). After that, Be-Bop Tango sounded smoother than it can be (or, it have to swing more than this!). Then the first Moss driven episode started: Food Gathering in Post- Industrial America. The other one (Welcome to the United States) has been placed a little bit later in the program. In spite of a great performer, these episodes are lost in Frankfurt, Berlin and Vienna, Orchestras, probably today Ensembles should consider wide and wild variations of them, or design new improvisations based upon their own folklore (see part one, Shark Manifesto 6, Improvised section).


PMCE – Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble | Tonino Battista conductor | David Moss performer
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Tonino Battista conductor | David Moss performer
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


The second half of the program caught the ears of the audience, again especially for chamber pieces (Ruth is Spleeping was tense and lyric), but also for Pound for a Brown/Exercise n. 4, maybe the best effort as for full orchestra pieces. Something more to adjust for Get Whitey and G-Spot Tornado, the latter played twice in a row, with the encore sounding better than the first one.


Giulia Tagliavia | piano
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


PMCE delivered a good performance if confronted with Get Ready to Zappa, a Zappa program conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer in 2011 in Rome (Auditorium Parco della Musica in Sinopoli Hall, the very same venue where Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala and Peter Rundel played a Yellow Shark program on October 10, 2018!), refer somewhere else on this site for an account of that concert. However it seems there is still something to tune, a matter of more rehearsal time?


Tonino Battista | David Moss
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


PMCE – Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble | Tonino Battista conductor | David Moss performer
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music | Biennale Musica 2018 | opening concert
Teatro Goldoni | Venice | September 28, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


The Venice concert has been broadcasted live by RAI Radio 3, recordings circulate into the Internet (one of them is at

Finally, a clip from The Biennale.



If crossover was the leitmotiv of the Venice Biennale, 2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival focused on walls and barriers as negative symbols of the beginning of the XXI century. Hence Frank Zappa as someone who completely ignored barriers in music, and especially one of the most enduring one: the border that separates the so called serious music from popular music. It should be now clear that if you need to cross over anything (even without any reason at all) you need to call for Frank Zappa!

ROMAEUROPA involved the Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala and Peter Rundel for a program titled Music from The Yellow Shark, which is the album playlist except Food gathering in post-industrial America and Welcome in the United States. Right away two good news: the “fine Conductor” of the September 1992 Ensemble Modern / Zappa tour in Germany and Austria; the Rome concert is the fourth of a five date Italian tour. Just for the record, here is the Ensemble Bernasconi schedule:

24 July 2018, Festival di Stresa (Stresa/Verbania) | Kristjan Järvi: Director
6,7 October 2018, Piccolo Teatro Studio (Milan) | Peter Rundel: Director
10 October 2018, Auditorium Parco della Musica (Rome)| Sala Sinopoli | Peter Rundel: Director
12 October 2018, Teatro Valli (Reggio Emilia) | Peter Rundel: Director

Here is a short clip from the Stresa date:



Then they had fine conductor Peter Rundel for four concerts in a week, 26 years after the Yellow Shark week, and 21 years after the very first Italian performance of Yellow Shark music (parts) by the Ensemble Modern conducted by Peter Rundel (Settembre Musica 1997, Auditorium Giovanni Agnelli, Lingotto, Turin, September 12, 1997).


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


And they did it! The October 10th concert gave Rome a real Zappa treat, the audience was so delighted with the music that did not let Rundel and the Ensemble go. Therefore a long encore followed the end of the program with Uncle Remus, Inca Roads and the ineluctable G-Spot Tornado, driven by a truly effective electric double bass performance and sound. The Resentment Listener had a chance for an after concert chat with fine Director Peter Rundel who first of all said that he was very happy for the project and then reported that the first two encores were arrangements by Charles Coleman, one of the founders (with Kristjan Järvi and Gene Pritsker) of The Absolute Ensemble. Absolute Zappa has been a 2004/2006 live project, Uncle Remus and Inca Roads were in the setlist, the former in the Coleman arrangement, also available here:


Uncle Remus by Frank Zappa, arranged by Charles Coleman | Performed by the strings of Absolute Ensemble at the Kostabi World, NYC, 1996 | Dir: Kristjan Järvi


Back to the beginning, after a few bars of Dog/Meat it has been immediately clear that it was going to be a dynamite show, also thanks to an extremely accurate sound engineering by Hubert Westkemper who fine-tuned sounds live with a fellow technician. Hubert told The Resentment Listener that there were more than 60 microphones on stage and noted how important is such a technology for the orchestration. For instance – he said – mandolin is sometimes used by Zappa to provide “color” to the brass section, such a function would not be noticeable without amplification. Hubert told they had two hours for a sound check to adjust sounds for a big hall after the Milan show in a smaller one.


Hubert Westkemper & fellow technician
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | string quintet | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Rundel and the Ensemble have effectively rendered the melancholy inherent to Outrage at Valdez and later to Get Whitey, two rare emotional episodes (if related to the whole composer’s canon) but also truly representative of the late Zappa. They also have been at ease with the rhythmic architecture of Time’s Beach, None of the Above or The Girl in the Magnesium Dress. And, as some of them recalled later after the concert, they enjoyed very much a journey started in July with a week of rehearsals before the first date and continued with another week of rehearsals before the Rundel leg of the tour in October.


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


In the careful hands of Peter Rundel and of the sound engineer, the young musicians of the Ensemble Bernasconi showcased in Roma a solid performance, near to the Ensemble Modern standard. However something between a request and a wish has been promoted by some distinguished members of the audience: to improve the humor side of the performance. Someone (not me actually) was also waiting for a rendition of the 1992 improvised episodes. Anyway, judging from the reactions all over Europe, these audiences are already longing for more, hopefully in accordance with the Shark Manifesto!


Peter Rundel
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Ensemble Giorgio Bernasconi dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala | Peter Rundel conductor
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


Peter Rundel
2018 ROMAEUROPA Festival | Auditorium Parco della Musica | Sinopoli Hall
Rome | October 10, 2018
(photo: spaziofermo)


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Fine Peter” @ spaziofermo, for a series of b/n photographs of Peter Rundel

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Halloween 77

Posted: November 7, 2017 in album review, obsession, zappa

Halloween 77 – Costume Box Set, Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017


15 hours 45 minutes 26 seconds. This is the piece of information that better describes the Halloween 77 Costume Box Set that celebrates the concert run’s 40th anniversary.

It is a six full blown shows long journey through material that Zappa condensed in Sheik Yerbouti (with overdubs) and Baby Snakes, and that has been scattered somewhere else (namely YCDTOSA 6 and Trance-Fusion, with its special case Bowling on Charen).

Audio quality is excellent and derives from 24-bit WAV audio files carried by a candy bar-shaped USB drive in punky yellow (consider the use of an appropriate external Digital/Analog Converter for your hi-fi set). Patrick O’Hearn is particularly clear on these recordings.

Halloween 77 USB stick (front), Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017

Halloween 77 USB stick (back), Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017


After a first show by show listen, that demands some planning (if you can, think about three hours sessions, 6 of them), it could be convenient to focus on the material, that of course has some redundancy.

Since time is still of affliction nowadays, it could be useful to go straight to the crux of the biscuit when you do not have a three hour space available.

The set lists of the first four shows (an average length of 2:20, 2 each day, October 28th and 29th) are quite similar, while for the October 30th and 31st Zappa delivered three hours programs with some special treats. 158 tracks, 25 songs (including 3 “audience episodes”) played 5 or 6 times, 11 songs (2 “audience episodes”) performed once or twice on the 30th and the 31st only.


The 11 songs set is 1h17min long, it can be easily managed. Here it is (in brackets: sum of the durations, number of performances):

A Halloween Treat with Thomas Nordegg (06:17; 1)
Black Napkins (09:19; 1)
Dancin’ Fool (World Premiere) (04:50; 1)
Dirty Love (02:32; 1)
I Have Been In You (08:35; 1)
Jewish Princess (Prototype) (04:41; 1)
King Kong (08:45; 1)
San Ber’ dino (11:21; 2)
Stink-Foot (07:45; 1)
The Demise Of The Imported Rubber Goods Mask (08:33; 1)
The Poodle Lecture (05:10; 1)

The first one is a stage number featuring Roy Estrada, Peter Wolf and Thomas Nordegg, the Austrian guitar tech, video cameraman and personal acquaintance of Peter Wolf that was in the Zappa crew for a long time. For recollected memories of the episode, refer to ZappaCast Episode 34 (A Halloween Treat with Thomas Nordegg!).

In this ZAPPAWEEN Podcast Scott Parker interviews Joe Travers and Thomas Nordegg around the subject of this release, and gives a preview of the NYC Palladium Halloween concerts.

As for some of the other items on this 11 songs list: Black Napkins is the movie version; Dirty Love features a short Belew solo; I Have Been In You includes Is That Guy Kidding or What? (YCDTOSA 6); for King Kong there is room for Phil Kaufman (the road manager) as human trombone and for Roy Estrada with his Gas Mask (solos: Mann and Mars); Stink Foot takes in a short FZ solo; The Demise Of The Imported Rubber Goods Mask, a Roy Estrada stage feature; The Poodle Lecture has been previously released on YCDTOSA 6.


The 25 songs set is 14 hours and half long, you need some criteria to go through it.

For my convenience I have further divided those 25 songs set into two different groups, those which take in some improvisation (9 numbers that you may want to focus on), and those that deliver more or less a standard version or a routine (that you eventually will listen to in complete show sessions). Here is the first group (in brackets: sum of the durations, number of performances; in order of duration):

Lather (22:39; 6)
Terry’s Solo (26:42; 6)
Muffin Man (32:46; 6)
Conehead (Instrumental) (39:17; 5)
City Of Tiny Lites (44:13; 6)
Pound For A Brown (58:38; 6)
Punky’ s Whips (1h:02:27; 6)
The Torture Never Stops (1h:16:54; 6)
Wild Love (2h:36:00; 6)

This group is 8 hours and 40 minutes long, and probably most of the crux of the biscuit is here.

Lather is in this group even though it includes a very short FZ solo. However it is the first officially released version after the original, most probably you will go for it often. Also, it features a different coda if confronted with the Zappa in NY original.

Terry Bozzio solos are always worth a listen, and these 6 are no exception. In the economy of the Palladium shows they do function as Terry’s Firma does in Hammersmith Odeon, which presents live recordings captured few months later in the same tour (Jan-Feb 1978). The structure of these solo has been very well synthesized by zappateer pbuzby:

Bozzio’s solos from fall 77/winter 78 were similar from show to show as well, always with the Syndrum bit, the bit where he plays phrases on the toms and then the same phrases on the double bass drums, and the closing explosive cymbal crash bit. Kind of a composed piece with some varied bits rather than the entirely improvised solos FZ played.

As for Muffin Man, every hard-core maniac knows all about that, and if he wants more, well here is more!

Conehead enters in the Zappa repertoire in late ’77 as an instrumental from 6 to 9 minutes long, a number much different than the song with lyrics as has been performed from late ’78 on. In its early stage, it works as a vehicle for a Zappa guitar solo, the main theme can be also heard during the Baby Snakes movie (namely Conehead/”All You Need To Know”, as featured in AAAFNRAA – Baby Snakes – The Compleat Soundtrack), however this version has been released in Halloween 77 for the first time in its complete form. And these five Zappa solos are great guitar time (Conehead is out in the October 30th setlist). On a steady rhythmic pulse, FZ builds his improvisation as an instant composition, a musical event where there is nor before neither after (note how these solos sort of abruptly finish). As remarked by Brett Clement: “Zappa’s solos seem often to begin “in the middle,” and, even more importantly, their endings are often heard as arbitrary” (from “A Study of the Instrumental Music of Frank Zappa”, see also “In control of garlic, moment to moment“).

For City Of Tiny Lites I would like to quote Foggy G, “The Songs That Were Played,” We’re Only In It For The Touring.

Frank’s solos were usually a bit longer than the one we have on SY, but they were not yet quite the tour-de-force solos that this tune would deliver on later tours. Note the written guitar part to close the solo section, and the little piano break before the return to vocals—two aspects of this song that would disappear in the ’80’s.

Short solos (1 to 3 minutes) with great moments of Bozzio-Zappa interplay (go for 28 show 2 and Halloween, the most long).

Pound For A Brown works as an improvisation vehicle for Patrick O’Hearn, Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf. Bass solos feature a tight interplay between O’Hearn and Bozzio who sometimes recalls some The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution workouts. Also, O’Hearn occasionally quotes rock classics, such as Aerosmith Walk This Way on Oct 29, second show (shortly thereafter Mars quotes Inca Roads). Notably, Mars improvisations are often enriched by his typical scats. And the short rhythm guitar preamble to the solo section is also to be noted.

Torture is a special case. In spite of the fact that the song is richly documented throughout the discography/filmography, these 6 versions are a must. FZ did like the song and published a lot of live versions covering all the touring bands (sometimes as solos on guitar albums, or as improvised sections on the YCDTOSA series), and so did ZFT who added some relevant episodes. For a full list please refer to and remain impressed at IINK. The Halloween 77 band already had three entries in this list (the ’78 versions: SY (as Rat Tomago), YCDTOSA 1, Hammersmith Odeon) however the structure of these 6 late ’77 solos is slightly different: FZ starts slowly then the tension gradually rises, and 2 or 3 minutes later the listener loses the sense of time: again, before and after make no sense anymore. For the Halloween solo, FZ delivers a shorter slow preamble, then he enters in the timeless realm of his improvisation. Instead, in the released ’78 solos he enters straight (no chaser) to the timeless point. A perfect example of such a thing is Rat Tomago, a solo that has been slightly edited to increase the effect.

Oh, by the way, did you know that Rat Tomago was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1979?

Back to October 1977 Tortures there is one last tiny detail to be pointed out: this is the last version that does not include a quote of Chattanooga Choo Choo that was used by FZ in Torture from the beginning of 1978 onward (at 3:20 in the Hammersmith Odeon version). For this tortured matter, the cleaner the better to me. And if after these 6 versions you need more, here is more: 30 The Torture Never Stops live guitar solos (1976-1988).


Punky’s Whips is the Bozzio vocals/drums showcase to be fully enjoyed in its visual movie epitome. Punky is in this list because of the final short FZ solo, less than 2 minutes for the first 4 shows, a little bit longer for last two. The hard way, as expected.

Wild Love, 6 performances, an average of 25 minutes each, with a special 30 minutes Halloween number. Solos for everyone but Bozzio, the Zappa workout being known as Bowling on Charen (Trance-Fusion) which is an edited version of the October 28th early show solo. For a piece previously unreleased in this monstre form, the complete Halloween 77 set let the listener know a lot about it and brings 5 different unreleased takes of Bowling on Charen. These solos, the solos to Torture and Conehead probably are most of the crux of the Halloween 77 biscuit, or of the Oh Punky USB stick! Three more facts to be reported here: Wild Love shares its coda with Lather (it is the same previously unreleased short piece of music); on October 31st FZ delivers a different finale as a further guitar solo; as noted by zappateer pbuzby “in 10/28 show #2 Wild Love, they sing the second verse (“Mama stroked his dinger…“) twice”, “it seems like an editing mistake“.

For a sample of the 9 numbers just described, refer to the above mentioned ZappaCast Episode 34 (direct link below).


Namely: The Torture Never Stops (October 29th early, starts at 00:35:47), Lather (October 28th late, 00:56:33), Conehead (October 28th late, 01:07:02).

To complete the USB stick program, the last group of songs (standards/routines, 5h 48 min) is to be mentioned (in brackets: sum of the durations, number of performances; in order of duration):

Big Leg Emma (09:14; 5)
Encore Audience (11:01; 6)
Envelopes (15:20; 6)
Peaches En Regalia (16:10; 6)
Jones Crusher (17:19; 6)
The Black Page #2 (18:12; 6)
Flakes (18:38; 5)
Start/Introductions (19:59; 6)
Camarillo Brillo (21:01; 6)
Tryin’ To Grow A Chin (21:31; 6)
Broken Hearts Are For Assholes (23:08; 6)
Disco Boy (23:34; 6)
Audience Participation (26:41; 6)
Bobby Brown Goes Down (29:16; 5)
Dinah-Moe Humm (33:14; 6)
Titties ‘N’ Beer (43:44; 6)

With the exception of Big Leg Emma (and counting out the audience interaction tracks), these songs are already available through Hammersmith Odeon exactly in the same versions. No great news here, even though the intros to Bobby Brown are to be mentioned: they all include variations on a story about “three assholes” (but also “crumpet munchers”) that wanted to interview Frank and brought their girlfriend along to impress them, letting them know that they were into the Woman Liberation Movement. Zappa acid Fun!

Also to be mentioned is this version of Envelopes with Tommy Mars on vocals, released for the second time here after Hammersmith Odeon.

The USB stick includes also a “28-page digital booklet featuring never-before-seen photos and liner notes from Vaultmeister Joe Travers, co-producer of the box alongside Ahmet Zappa, and personal firsthand accounts from many of Zappa’s bandmates, crew and fans who were there, including guitarist Adrian Belew, percussionist Ed Mann, keyboard tech Thomas Nordegg, tour manager Phil Kaufman, and fan Janet “The Planet” Walley (from, “keyboard tech” should be probably corrected in “guitar tech”).

And of course the box set also include the FZ Halloween mask & costume, an artwork by David Calcano of Fantoons, who also contributed to the illustration of the cover of The Crux Of The Biscuit: An Fz Audio Documentary Project/Object.

Whistler’s Mother of Invention, Cotton Rag paper, 16×20 inches, limited edition of 50, Fantoons Animation Studio in Los Angeles, 2015

original FZ mask sketch, Fantoons Animation Studio in Los Angeles, 2017


If you are not willing to deal with this more than 15 hours audio trip, you may want to go for the 3 cd reduction (3h28min), that consists of the October 31st complete concert plus a few bonus tracks from the 30th (King Kong, A Halloween Treat With Thomas Nordegg, Audience Participation #5, The Black Page #2). If you already know Hammersmith Odeon, such a choice would bring you Wild Love and Conehead as main news, on the other hand if you don’t know both and you want to choose one only, I would go for Halloween 77, it is the same band but the program is slightly more interesting. However, with such “physical” options you are going to miss the big amount of the assorted improvisations included in the 8 hours and 40 minutes 9 songs group outlined above, and a chance to immerse yourself in a memorable Zappa Halloween week.

Halloween 77, Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017


For detailed images of the Costume Box Set, refer to

Finally, for really obsessed hard-core fanatics, click HERE to get the Excel file used to sum Halloween 77 durations.


A late November update

On November 21st 2017 Zappa Records confirmed through that the track Wild Love from Show 2, 10-28-77 has an error. Zappa Records lets acquirers of Halloween 77 Box Set download the correct track if they send an email with a picture of of the box number (those who purchased the box through the store received an email with a download link).

The corrected track is 24:57 long while the previous one lasts 26:01 (in the latter the band sings the second verse twice, as noted above).


Meat Light

Posted: January 23, 2017 in album review, zappa, zappology
Meat Light - The Uncle Meat Project/Object Audio Documentary (3CD, Zappa Records/UMe ZR20024, November 4, 2016)

Meat Light – The Uncle Meat Project/Object Audio Documentary (3CD, Zappa Records/UMe ZR20024, November 4, 2016)


Uncle Meat is a milestone, the landmark where The Mothers of Invention reached the highest point, but also the time when the project termination phase began. This double LP set was recorded between October 1967 and February 1968, it was released on April 1969, the following summer Zappa would have disbanded the MOI.

After such recording sessions the MOI become almost only a live band. Of course Zappa used a lot of 68/69 live material to mold two further “posthumous” MOI album, namely Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh (and much later, YCDTOSA Vol.5 disc 2 and Ahead of Their Time), however the studio MOI era closed with Uncle Meat, as often with FZ, an unfinished project, since it should have been a movie also (somehow completed almost 20 years later in 1987).

The “audio vérité” tracks included in the album testify of the economic difficulties of the band that eventually brought his leader to close the project the next year (probably economics was not the only issue, but it was a crucial one). Nevertheless until February 1968 Zappa conceived the MOI as a studio band also.

In the original liner notes FZ emphasizes on technology and studio procedures he was particularly fond of: Uncle Meat is a peak also as a sonic 60’s object, being a balanced mix of electric and acoustic music, often manipulated in speed and through other electronic filters.

[An extract of the original liner notes as it has been included into the Meat Light booklet, a complete set of images of this new edition of Uncle Meat is available through]

Uncle Meat was in fact one of the projects entirely produced at Apostolic Studios (together with Ruben & The Jets), a sonic engine that gave Zappa new opportunities:

By late 1967, Apostolic Studios had installed a prototype Scully 12-track recorder, and the overdubbing opportunities it afforded, together with a variable-speed oscillator used to modify the machine’s 30 ips tape speed, allowed for the creation of a completely new sound palette.
Chris Michie, “We Are The Mothers . . . And This Is What We Sound Like!“, Mix, January 1, 2003

For a detailed account of those Apostolic times, please refer also to: The story of the recording studio that became Frank Zappa’s New York downtown playground!

Apostolic Studios brochure cover

Apostolic Studios brochure cover

Previous Michie quote and Apostolic link via Uncle Meat notes at IINK, a must to go in deep into the album, which was a seminal one.

If you look at the track lists of previous MOI albums to pick songs and compositions that would have traveled time and space, you’ll find for sure some (e.g. Trouble Every Day, Brown Shoes Don’t Make It or The Idiot Bastard Son’s), but if you skim the Uncle Meat list you’ll be amazed to find music that participated to essential future FZ projects, such as Hot Rats (Mr. Green Genes) or Yellow Shark (Dog/Meat, Exercise #4, Pound for a Brown). You will also find King Kong, the perfect embodiment of the matter that kept the Project/Object alive for 25 years. Moreover Uncle Meat features Nine Types of Industrial Pollution, one of the first examples of a completely xenochronized piece, and Project X, a composition that would have fit Jazz From Hell too (at least from 1:35 on).

Forward to 2016, ZFT released Meat Light, the fifth Project/Object in the series of 40ieth Anniversary Audio Documentaries, the second in 2016, after The Crux Of The Biscuit.
It’s a 3 cd set, and its main features are:

  1. the original album restored for the first time on cd to the sonic palette of the ’60s (Original 1969 Vinyl Mix, cd 1)
  2. an early album sequence (Original Sequence, cd 2 and part of cd 3)
  3. 20 sessions outtakes (From the Vault, part of cd 3)


Here are the main credits from the Meat Light page (track list is below the post):

Recording Engineers: Dick Kunc, Jerry Hansen
Studios: Apostolic Studios, NYC; Sunset Sound, Los Angeles
Original package designed by Cal Schenkel, NT&B

THE MOTHERS at the time of this recording were:

FRANK ZAPPA: guitar, low grade vocals, percussion
RAY COLLINS: swell vocals
JIMMY CARL BLACK: drums, droll humor, poverty
ROY ESTRADA: electric bass, cheeseburgers, Pachuco falsetto
DON (Dom De Wild) PRESTON: electric piano, tarot cards, brown rice
BILLY (The Oozer) MUNDI: drums on some pieces before he quit to join RHINOCEROS
BUNK (Sweatpants) GARDNER: piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, bassoon (all of these electric and/or nonelectric depending)
IAN UNDERWOOD: electric organ, piano, harpsichord, celeste, flute, clarinet, alto sax, baritone sax, special assistance, copyist, industrial relations & teen appeal
ARTIE (With the Green Mustache) TRIPP: drums, timpani, vibes, marimba, xylophone, wood blocks, bells, small chimes, cheerful outlook & specific enquires
EUCLID JAMES (Motorhead/Motorishi) SHERWOOD: pop star, frenetic tenor sax stylings, tambourine, choreography, obstinance & equipment setter-upper when he’s not hustling local groupies

Special Thanks to:
RUTH KOMANOFF who plays marimba and vibes with Artie on many of the tracks,
NELCY WALKER the soprano voice with Ray & Roy on Dog Breath & The Uncle Meat Variations.

The Uncle Meat Project/Object Audio Documentary
Compiled & Produced by Gail Zappa & Joe Travers

Disc One – Chris Bellman, Bernie Grundman Mastering 2013
Disc Two & Three – John Polito, Audio Mechanics 2013

Cover and Interior Paintings: Theo Holdt
Photography: Michael Ochs Archive; Additional Photos Courtesy of: The Vault
Package Design: Michael Mesker
Production Manager: Melanie Starks
Special Thanks: Ahmet & Diva, Holland Greco, Kurt Morgan

Vaultmeister Notes:
All material for this release was taken entirely from 1/4” mono & stereo analog tapes except Disc Three, Track 24, taken from the original 12 track analog master (Mixed by Joe Travers, UMRK 2013). All transfers by Joe Travers at UMRK 2012-2013, 96K 24B .WAV (except Disc One- transferred 2005). The original analog tape edit master for Uncle Meat unfortunately suffers in sections from oxide loss due to tape age and bad storage conditions. A new hi-res digital patchwork edit master was created in 2013 with all damaged sections restored from safety tapes found in the vault for best sonics!


Uncle Meat now sounds near to the original vinyl for the first time on cd. All the digital reverb of the UMRK 1987 version is not there anymore (as it is in all the other cd releases, including the 2012 UMe), and this version does not include the “bonus tracks” featured in the other cd editions (two excerpts from the Uncle Meat movie, and Tengo ‘na Minchia Tanta, a song recorded in the 80’s with Massimo Bassoli). From a sonic point of view, there is the same difference between the Hot Rats 2012 UMe edition and all the other cd versions released before: no digital reverb, maybe a little less brilliant but with a way better response at low frequencies. For instance the bassoon prolonged low note at the beginning of Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme sounds different here! Also, the 2016 soundscape is that of a small hall, which is more appropriate for the sort of chamber music featured in the album.

The early album sequence has a lot in common with cd 1 (many tracks are exactly alike), but includes also two unreleased underground, freak-out instrumentals (Whiskey Wah, The Whip) and a few reworked items (eg. King Kong as a single 10:46 episode at the end of an imaginary LP 1). In spite of the repetitions, this sequence (divided in four parts – four LP sides? – in the liner notes) has a lot to speak as far as FZ “compulsive editing”, to adhere to a Don Preston remark:

I always liked to say that he was a compulsive editor. I saw him three months after an album was released, put that same album together in different ways, and re-editing the album when it’s not even going to come out. He used to love to sit there and edit anything.
Don Preston, quoted by Billy James, Necessity Is . . . , 2001, p. 79
(quoted in the IINK Uncle Meat notes page)

The Uncle Meat listening experience is slightly different with this sequence, particularly interesting is the position of the shortened King Kong, here is in part 2 (side 2?), which is the only full instrumental one. The King loses his status (his full side majesty), but here he is in the flow of the discourse, right in the center. As reported by Vaultmeister Joe Travers at ZappaCast, Episode 30 (October 31, 2016, the Meat Light chat starts approximately at 1:16), this sequence could represent the transition between No Commercial Potential (an earlier project, supposedly 6 sides log) and Uncle Meat.

The Vault section of disc 3 deserves a detailed account such as that given by zappateer Galeans (dig it here!). It features about 50 minutes of music (+4 minutes of spoken words and a beer scream!), a trip into alternate mixes, extended versions, further variations and used and unused building blocks.

Tango, 1/4 Tone Unit, Sakuji’s March, No. 4 are short unreleased nuggets that sounds like sketches of something that never happened, archetypal Zappa, not to be missed.

Tapes on the Scully, Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Tapes on the Scully, Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Blood Unit has an interesting background:

There is some music in [The World’s Greatest Sinner] which actually resides in the Uncle Meat album. I remember the cue is something with a lot of sixteenth notes in it, sextuplets that had something to do with, uh, it’s been so long since I saw the movie, it was for a plane taking off, and that part was used, and also, the trail of blood sequence in World’s Greatest Sinner, where the guy stabs the host and there’s supposed to be a trail of blood on the lawn. That was called “Blood Unit”, in the scoring list, and that whole unit was done with electric instruments for Uncle Meat, but I can’t remember what I called it. I know it’s in the album. I can’t remember what I called it.
FZ on Society Pages (USA), April, 1990
(Quoted in the IINK Uncle Meat notes page)

Blood Unit of course found his way (in a different mix) in Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague (incidentally, the opening number of The Original Sequence).

Both Electric Aunt Jemima and Mr. Green Genes mix outtakes include new guitar parts, those at the beginning of the latter are really short but delightful.

Prelude To King Kong is extended by an unreleased FZ solo, about 2:00 long, a super add-on!

Exercise 4 Variant is self-explanatory: a sequence of variations of the Exercise 4 / Uncle Meat themes with various orchestrations, a great 4 minutes sort of trailer!

My Guitar (Proto I—Excerpt) is another underground, freak-out episode (as noted by Galeans “Frank’s solo sounds a bit treated: a sped up overdub?”), the more you have, the more you want!

For Uncle Meat (Live at Columbia University 1969), again I would like to quote eminent zappateer Galeans notes, truly appropriate:

Someone has suggested that FZ plays drums on this and I think he is definitely right: there are two drums and someone is playing marimba, likely Art Tripp, “FZ/JCB Drum Duet” on YCDTOSA5 comes from an “Uncle Meat” performance and, as shown on the Roxy video, Zappa did play percussion on this song in 1973/4.

The Vault section includes the normal speed guitar track of Nine Types Of Industrial Pollution, a lot of fun and, as already noted at, Stucco Homes comes into mind.

Finally, Echo Pie needs a mention because it is FZ proposing the band to tour without him keeping the MOI moniker, he says there’s a lot of studio work to be done, in general another account of the difficulties suffered by the band.

For a complete report of all the differences between the original album and the music included in cd 2 and 3, do not miss the Meat Light notes page at IINK, it is also the evidence of that compulsive editing!

Meat Light is of course a hard-core item, it is neatly constructed like this. If you are one of those cool people, go grab it. However if you are a newcomer you will probably refer to the main UMe catalog, as released in 2012, but if you do you will get the “digital reverb affected” edition. It would have been the opposite, like it happens with We’re Only in it for the Money: the main catalog single cd edition is the one that sounds like the original vinyl, while the “digital reverb affected” + new bass and drums is available through The Lumpy Money Project/Object.

There is a similar issue with Cruising With Ruben & The Jets: the “regular edition” is “digital reverb affected” and has 80’s bass and drums, while Greasy Love Songs includes the one that should be considered the reference. Luckily enough, they are both single cd editions. Hey newcomer, it won’t be easy, ask for help!

A further note about the cover and the graphics project in general. The gorgeous painting by Theo Holdt on the front cover fits perfectly the theme. A matter of teeth, but also that abstract cow makes it. The other paintings (cds and inner cover art) are also interesting and they would have been probably of interest of FZ too. However the use of such a large amount of graphics external to the original project could be questionable.

In such a case you don’t have to judge the album by its cover, Meat Light gives Uncle Meat the treatment it deserved since a long time, at last!

For a closing remark, I would like to quote Ian Underwood from his concise liner notes (that includes some FZ relevant quotes too):

  1. Listen carefully and in a focused manner.
  2. Read Frank’s own words which are readily available in books or the internet. Here are a few.

~ Ian Underwood, August 2016

You can count me in!



In the following, more photos from the Getty Images Michael Oches Archives from the recording sessions at Apostolic Studios (New York, February 15, 1968).


Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images

Frank Zappa recording session at Apostolic Studios, February 15, 1968, Michael Oches Archives, Getty Images


Chicago ’78

Posted: December 10, 2016 in album review, conceptual continuity, zappa
Frank Zappa, Chicago '78, Vaulternative Records/Zappa Records, ZR 20025, November 2016

Frank Zappa, Chicago ’78, Vaulternative Records/Zappa Records, ZR 20025, November 2016


The Fall 1978 Zappa line up performed 34 shows between August 26th and October 31st. In 2003 ZFT celebrated this band with a multi-channel (DVD-A) selection of recordings from the NYC Halloween final leg of this world Tour, a special performance as usual for an album definitely titled Halloween. However, Zappa didn’t give these performances much space in his discography, just a few episodes in the YCDTOSA series, most of them from the NYC above mentioned leg, in Volume 6. Probably this material, though evolving and featuring completely different drumming, is too close to Sheik Yerbouti; also the arrangements of the new pieces sometimes were not at their best (e.g. Easy Meat), some other times needed some more eyebrows (e.g. Bamboozled), or were just raw material (e.g. I’m A Beautiful Guy/Crew Slut). Keep it Greasy is a special case that needed that ’79 Garage treatment to reach his best.

In spite of such kind of minuses, this tour has a lot of interest for those hard-core fanatics keen on listening again to the Sheik Yerbouti repertoire with Vinnie “rhythmic encyclopedia” Colaiuta on drums: a completely different interplay later to be spotlighted on Shut Up ‘n’ Play yer Guitar. (It’s not a matter of drums competition here, Colaiuta and Bozzio are different drummers, both deserve to be listened). Also, some “old” news were particularly appealing. Ike Willis vocals perfectly fit Village Of The Sun and that soulful Roxy sound. Strictly Genteel entered the rock band stage for the first time in this tour, and remained there until 1988.

Frank Zappa was almost perfectly in the middle of his career, if you consider the May 1963 Mount St. Mary’s College concerts the beginning, and the Yellow Shark 1993 tour the outstanding but painful end. He had a fresh and solid repertoire (Sheik Yerbouti), he was developing a lot of new material, later to find his way to Joe’s Garage, You Are What You Is and Tinsel Town Rebellion, and he also gave the 1978 audience some hints from far (Little House) and near (Yellow Snow) past.

For these reasons until 2003, hard-core fandom was stuck with some gorilla recordings, being Poughkeepsie and Saarbrücken perhaps the most renowned and heavily bootlegged. The former must be mentioned also for a very special live rendition of Moe’s Vacation (still unreleased), while the latter is also known as part of the Beat the Boots I series (published by Zappa in 1991). Also bootlegged and interesting are the August rehearsals tapes, with a great version of Packard Goose, still lacking the classic Information is not Knowledge anthem.

So the 2003 Halloween album sounded particularly refreshing for such a public as long as this brand new Chicago ’78 album:

cd 1
1 Chicago Walk-On 1:20
2 Twenty-One 8:26
3 Dancin’ Fool 3:29
4 Easy Meat 5:41
5 Honey, Don’t You Want A Man Like Me? 4:21
6 Keep It Greasy 3:41
7 Village Of The Sun 9:15
8 The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing 3:29
9 Bamboozled By Love 8:32
10 Sy Borg 4:36

cd 2
1 Little House I Used To Live In 9:38
2 Paroxysmal Splendor (includes: FZ & Pig/I’m A Beautiful Guy/Crew Slut) 7:14
3 Yo’ Mama 12:28
4 Magic Fingers 2:37
5 Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow 18:36
6 Strictly Genteel 8:25
7 Black Napkins 8:01

Uptown Theater
Chicago, Illinois
29 September 1978 (Show 2)

Frank Zappa: Guitar, Vocals
Ike Willis: Guitar, Vocals
Denny Walley: Slide Guitar, Vocals
Tommy Mars: Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Wolf: Keyboards
Ed Mann: Percussion, Vocals
Arthur Barrow: Bass, Vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums, Vocals

Original recordings produced by Frank Zappa
Produced for release by Gail Zappa & Joe Travers
1978 Mix Engineer: Davy Moire
1978 Recordist: Claus Weideman
2014 Re-mix Engineer: Craig Parker Adams, Winslow CT Studio, Hollywood CA
2014 Mastering Engineer: Bob Ludwig, Gateway Mastering
Package Design: Michael Mesker
Production Manager: Melanie Starks
Photography: Courtesy of the Vault
Text by FZ

The album booklet includes the September 29 concert program, also available at afka.

These recordings originate from three different sources, as noted by the Vaultmeister “in order to present this shows in it’s entirety”, and the result is truly excellent, it probably sounds clearer than Hallowen. The opener gives immediately a perfect test for your hears: detailed stereo image, prominent drums and guitar to enjoy that classic interplay, reference vibes and bass a little bit back. Twenty-One, later to be titled Trance-Fusion, should be the single of the album, since the audience here is a hard-core one. A necessary note on this piece by meister zappateer pbuzby:

Twenty-One is a riff in (as the title implies) 21/8. It was played at 9-17-78 (L) and this show as a guitar vehicle, and at 10-29-78 with solos by other band members. It also showed up the second verse of the studio version of Keep It Greasey, and eventually resurfaced in ’88 as the solo vamp for Marqueson’s Chicken. (One of those solos became the title cut of Trance Fusion.)

And side B of the Chicago ’78 single should be the closing song of cd 1: Sy Borg, in an arrangement and with sounds close to the studio version, but with a special live vibe. Twenty-One/Sy Borg could be a perfect Record Store Day treat!

In between cd1 flows at a steady pace, beyond that 2017 Record Store Day single, Village Of The Sun and Bamboozled By Love are other highlights of the show, with a lot of Danny Walley slide guitar to enjoy.

Cd 2 starts with Little House I Used To Live In, it is the classic mid show section with a lot of space for various improvisation, and after a drums solo the band goes crazy and tries also a couple of new things (I’m A Beautiful Guy/Crew Slut), during a section properly entitled Paroxysmal Splendor.

What follows is classic ’70s Zappa, I for one am very happy of another Black Napkins (even if there already are more than ten officially released versions), and I am particularly glad that we eventually have a new version of Yo’ Mama, a 1978 Zappa signature song.

Chicago ’78 is two hours of solid entertainment if you are longing to listen to your fifteenth high-fi Black Napkins and if your are still looking for the missing link between Martian Love Secrets and Arrogant Mop.


Frank Zappa, Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL, September 29, 1978, by Richard Freeman

Frank Zappa, Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL, September 29, 1978, by Richard Freeman


Little Dots

Posted: November 14, 2016 in album review, zappa
Frank Zappa, Little Dots, Zappa Records, ZR 20026, November 2016

Frank Zappa, Little Dots, Zappa Records, ZR 20026, November 2016


In January and April 2002, Jon Naurin and Charles Ulrich interviewed trumpet player Gary Barone about the Petit Wazoo tour (Gary now lives in Germany and teaches at the Jazz & Rock Schule Freiburg). The interview is available through the main web resource for the matter: The Petit Wazoo Tour by Charles Ulrich. The quote that follows perfectly depicts that band concept and gives some useful context information (more about the jazz scene related to Zappa and this tour elsewhere in this blog: That funny smell):

The repertoire consisted of three “sets” of songs: the first was the Grand Wazoo arrangements cut down for the smaller band–these were rehearsed and definitive versions. The second group of songs was rehearsed, but not set in stone–they evolved somewhat as we played them. The third group were “jams”–mostly entirely improvised (blues, grooves, etc.). I would have to hear the pieces again to say “how much” they were improvised.

This was probably one of the “jazziest” of Franks bands. He would come and play at the jam sessions in some of the cities on the tour. He seemed to get off playing with the “jazzers”. He was amazing. Although he didn’t come from the jazz idiom, he wanted to learn more–and sounded good doing it. I really respected him: his ability to put out so much music and so many ideas.

As well as Imaginary Diseases (Zappa Records, 2006) did, Little Dots (Zappa Records, 2016) freshly released 10 years after the former, equally explores the three sets mentioned by Gary.

First of all, main credits:

–       ;- {=      –

1 Cosmik Debris 5:40
2 Little Dots (Part 1) 11:00
3 Little Dots (Part 2) 12:59
4 Rollo (includes: Rollo / The Rollo Interior Area / Rollo Goes Out) 9:04
5 Kansas City Shuffle 6:46
6 “Columbia, S.C.” (Part 1) 8:58
7 “Columbia, S.C.” (Part 2) 16:40

Official Release #109
Catalog Number: ZR 20026

Original Recordings And Mixes Produced By Frank Zappa
Produced For Release By Ahmet Zappa & Joe Travers

Frank Zappa – Conductor, Guitar, Vocals
Malcolm McNab – Trumpet
Gary Barone – Trumpet
Tom Malone – Tuba/Saxes/Piccolo Trumpet/Trumpet
Earl Dumler – Woodwinds
Glenn Ferris – Trombone
Bruce Fowler – Trombone
Tony Duran – Slide Guitar
Dave Parlato – Bass
Jim Gordon – Drums, Steel Drum
Maury Baker – Drums, Steel Drum (“Columbia, SC”)

1972 4-Track 1/2-inch analog tape show masters recorded by Barry Keene
Mix Engineers: FZ, Michael Braunstein, Kerry McNabb
Mastering: Gavin Lurssen & Reuben Cohen at Lurssen Mastering, 2016
Audio Transfers and Compilation by Joe Travers, UMRK 2016
Liner Notes by Malcolm McNab and Maury Baker
Photos by Bernard Gardner
Package Design by Michael Mesker
Production Management by Melanie Starks

Special Thanks: Ahmet, Diva, Holland Greco, Charles Ulrich
Thanks Forever: Frank & Gail

–       ;- {=      –

(that’s fantastic Charles!!, I’d also like to thank you!)

Going back to the Barone sets of songs, let’s try it, also considering Imaginary Diseases (the 2006 album) and Trudgin’ Across The Tundra (a single Petit Wazoo episode from One Shot Deal with a great trumpet solo by Gary Barone):

rehearsed and definitive
Rollo (ID, LD)
Farther O’Blivion (ID)
Cosmik Debris (LD)

rehearsed, but evolving
Imaginary Diseases (ID)
Little Dots (LD)

jams (blues & groves)
Oddients (ID)
Been To Kansas City In A Minor (ID)
D.C. Boogie (ID)
Montreal (ID)
Kansas City Shuffle (LD)
Columbia, S.C. (LD)
Trudgin’ Across The Tundra (OSD)

Official discography showcase of definitive Petit Wazoo arrangements is therefore limited to such three pieces, that is good but a few more deserves to surface, I for one would go for Waka/Jawaka and Duke of Prunes at least (please refer to the repertoire page of Charles’ site). Hopefully Frank Zappa “mixed, edited & tweaked” (see Imaginary Diseases liner notes) more of them.

The “evolving” sections of set two could be considered part of set three: set two is built of rather short arranged parts as intro or outro to improvised segments. Also, Imaginary Diseases and Little Dots are the only two “songs” peculiar to the Petit Wazoo: performed in 1972 only, between October and December (see repertoire again).

Set three is actually two kind of jams: based on a canon (blues, boogie, etc.) or events based on an open, sometimes truly elaborated, structure.

Frank Zappa introducing Columbia, S.C.:

Suppose we’re in to just sort of make something up right here on the stage, would that be offensive to you?
Blues, Jazz? Suppose it was none of the above.
Suppose some of those other things creep into it periodically.
All we’d like to do is just extend our imagination a little bit up here and see what happens.
Let’s start up with the steel drums, and the bass and the baritone oboe.
If it’s too crappy we will quit.

Columbia, S.C. starts with a sort of chamber intro followed by trumpet and tuba solo episodes, the latter with Zappa to counterpoint at it also with the Peter Gunn Theme. Then some full orchestra figures, that sound like conducted improvisations (à la Everything Is Healing Nicely), bring to a trombone solo (I bet it’s Bruce) with improvised (probably conducted) full orchestra figures scattered into it. Part 1 suddenly ends and, incredibly enough, frenzy perfectly melts into a relaxed intro to a new improvised section based upon some melodic material vaguely recalling of the James Bond Theme. FZ solo slowly raises tension, then orchestra enters to serve an intro to Tony Duran for a second guitar solo, with FZ at rhythm guitar. Frenzy is back again but a little over everything goes down once more for a gentle start of a short drum solo that brings to a second Zappa solo combined with a lot of orchestra blasts. Then the initial sort of Bond Theme enters (guitar, clarinet, trumpet and brass) to perfectly calm everything down for a “thank you very much” finale. Zappa: “And now for the truly conclusion of that invented song …” As to confirm that it was a one time only event that could be also originated by an incident occurred shortly before that night:

November 5, 1972—Township Auditorium, Columbia, SC
Gamecock, University Of South Carolina, November 6, 1972

Township arrests

Two members of Frank Zappa’s “Mothers of Invention” band were arrested last night at Township Auditorium for possession of cocaine.

Horn player Gary Barone and drummer James B. Gordon were arrested during an intermission in the show between 10:45 and 10:55 according to Sgt. Galvin of the Columbia Police Department narcotics squad.

Both musicians posted $5,000 bond and were released to their attorney.

When the mothers appeared on stage Frank Zappa prefaced the performance with “Our regular drummer couldn’t be here tonight because he has a peculiar malady.”

At the end of the performance the crowd at the auditorium began screaming more, more as is the custom for requesting an encore. Zappa, however, cut the show short saying that circumstances beyond his control prevented extending the performance for another number.

source: 1972—Chronology Sources, Notes & Comments at Information Is Not Knowledge.

Maury Baker was the second drummer for this band and entered the stage that night to participate to this amazing performance that also gives a perfect example of what an awesome musical architect Zappa was.

There must be a criteria for the titles to the jams (Barone set three). Those named after a place with no reference to a canon (boogie, shuffle, etc.) should be one-time only, with blues and jazz to “creep into it periodically”.

As far as we know, all Petit Wazoo issued material has been “handpicked and worked on by the Maestro himself” (from the Little Dots liner notes), Kansas City Shuffle for instance has been cutted down from about 12 minutes to less than 7 (solos by Tony Duran solo and Tom Malone (alto) as been edited out), hopefully there’s more of such pre-produced material chosen from 21 dates and 27 shows, fully packed with gorgeous arrangements, bluesy improvisations and on-time only events such as Columbia, S.C..

Back to the Barone remarks about the repertoire (and to the above tentative subdivision), Joe Travers has carefully compiled the two released 1972 titles giving each one a good balance of the three sets.

We now have Farther O’Blivion (ID) and Rollo (ID, LD), probably the most important “rehearsed and definitive” 1972 renditions, furthermore the Little Dots Rollo arrangement is unreleased in this form, complete with the first two parts with lyrics and with a few breaks later used for Zomby Woof.

The “evolving” set includes the two cornerstones of the tour, and Little Dots perfectly represents the Petit Wazoo approach to music: part 1 is improvisation wide-open, while part 2 gives the audience that “old thing” in a boogie form, with a weird finale. Introducing this performance of this piece, Frank Zappa gave a perfect description of such a structure, that probably also is a comprehensive picture of his whole opus, if you think at it as a fractal thing:

Now we’re gonna play something that contains within it its own devious little boogie, but before you get to the boogie there’s a bunch of weird stuff on either side of it.

“Jams” is the larger set, and “blues and grooves” were in fact a large portion of these shows. Between those picked by Joe, Columbia, S.C. surely push the audience beyond. Hopefully there is more of “mixed, edited & tweaked” by FZ to come from the Vault. Just to give an example I have just ended up listening to the December 9 Portland late show that includes an 18 minute improvisation (the open-wind kind of) with great sections and weak moments, it would be great if FZ had handpicked it for some of his legendary tweaks!

In short, Columbia, S.C., Little Dots and Rollo can be considered the highlights of the second Petit Wazoo release while Farther O’Blivion, Imaginary Diseases and D.C. Boogie were probably those of the first. Handpick both and cross your fingers for a third one!


Frank Zappa, Cowtown Ballroom, Kansas City, December 2, 1972, by Philip DeWalt (via Charles Ulrich)

Frank Zappa, Cowtown Ballroom, Kansas City, December 2, 1972, by Philip DeWalt (via Charles Ulrich)


November 16 – Post Scriptum
Today I got the physical CD in my mailbox and I finally managed to read the liner notes. Both Malcom McNab and Maury Baker share their memories of the Columbia incident/concert that eventually brought Zappa to conceive a very special night as far as improvisation was concerned. Maury Baker recalls how he joined the band at the very last minute, he was the drummer in Tim Buckeley’s band that was the opening act for Frank that night. Because of the Barone/Gordon incident, Zappa asked Baker to play drums with the Petit Wazoo right before the beginning of the concert in Columbia! Malcom McNab:

With the drummer from Tim Buckeley’s band, Maury Baker, and was was left the Zappa band, we proceeded to make up the entire performance, improvising along with Frank’s unique conducting and creative influence and of course, great guitar solos.


That funny smell

Posted: November 7, 2016 in zappa, zappology
Frank Zappa, by The-OXette @DeviantArt

Frank Zappa, by The-OXette @DeviantArt


After a first listen of Little Dots, I already have the feeling that it will remain in my audioscape for a long time. And listening to the Petit Wazoo band back again after a few years, I recalled a 2011 Italian press article: Luca Conti, Frank Zappa: lo strano odore del jazz, Musica Jazz n. 5 (maggio 2011). Or FZ: the funny smell of jazz.

Luca Conti, now director of the Italian monthly magazine Musica Jazz, has been so kind the let this blog share his article that gives interesting context information related to the early seventies jazz scene, and properly focuses on the relatioship between Zappa and his musicians, and between Zappa and jazz.

Please click THIS LINK for the Italian version, an English translation follows.


Luca Conti
Frank Zappa: lo strano odore del jazz
Musica Jazz n. 5 (maggio 2011)

Zappa had a dream and he probably ended up confessing it in one of his various interviews too: he could do without musicians, a human category that he despised with all his might since 1969 – that is since the disbanding of the Mothers of Invention – making use of them just because, in a very Ellingtonian way, he needed someone to perform his compositions. Judging from the direction he had taken for some time at the time of his death (1993), and considering the huge progress that information technology applied to music was going through, such a course was widely feasible.

Zappa has always been obsessively pursuing absolute perfection, uncompromising to the point of self-destructiveness when dealing with performance mistakes (his own, but also and especially those of his musicians), relentless in demanding hundred and ten percent from those who wanted to play with him (as handed down through dozens of anecdotes about his legendary auditions), and above all convinced that music that cannot be performed does not exist: when the human element fails machines enter the stage.

All this could not obviously come out in favor of an untroubled and easygoing relationship with the musicians he hired to perform extraordinarily difficult scores, enough to convince him that in the long run he could probably do without musicians, flesh and blood. In 1982, the purchase of a Synclavier – a truly expensive system that served as a digital synthesizer and sampler – allowed him to implement his old plan: to do everything by himself replacing the human element with technology (or even better: making technology human; so to eliminate every mistake, absolutely).

Such an approach would seem, at least in theory, the exact antithesis of that commonly used in jazz, although since 1941 – in The Sheik Of Araby – Sidney Bechet certainly did not hesitate to overdub clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums, just as Lennie Tristano career long tape manipulations are well-known.

And it is quite remarkable that Zappa has decided to name his first full Synclavier album (apart from a song, and excluding an implausible baroque divertissement such as Francesco Zappa) precisely Jazz From Hell as to highlight such a dichotomy even more. There is not much jazz in Jazz From Hell actually, at least not much jazz as usually taken: however we find the evident intention to tame the machine, to bend its sound characteristics to an outcome as much natural as possible, with no need to deal with idiosyncrasies of real musicians, mostly source of problems if not trouble from his point of view.

The comparison with Tristano is not as out of place as it might appear: in a totally surprising way, theoretically too. We know the diatribes that occurred at that time between the pianist – who claimed the creative legitimacy of his editing interventions with pre-recorded rhythm tracks – and the critics who quite explicitly accused him to “cheat”: people do not care much to listen to music, rather to compete with it, that was the Tristano bitter conclusion. Almost identical words to those used by Zappa in 1990, after he overdubbed new rhythm sections for some of his historical album for their reissue on CD: “I’m actually flattered that people are listening that closely to the albums, but what’s disturbing me is that they’re listening to the production more than the music.” (Frank Zappa Discusses Upcoming CD Projects by Pete Howard, ICE, September & October, 1990).

One example among many: Rubber Shirt released in ’79 in Sheik Yerbouti, perhaps the most selling Zappa album. Undoubtedly a typical jazz performance: a dialogue less than three-minute long between bass (Patrick O’Hearn) and drums (Terry Bozzio) defined by Zappa himself an example of “sensitive, interesting interplay.” Remarkably, such a duet never took place, although Bozzio and O’Hearn had been in Zappa’s touring band for a long time.

According to the album liner notes, the song have been created starting from a live 1974 4/4 guitar solo, upon which O’Hearn overdubbed a new bass part (“not completely an improvised “bass solo”,” Zappa hastens to point out). After that, the new bass line has been used with the drums track of a completely different song, a piece in 11/4 that had nothing to do with the previous one. Therefore the guitar solo is disappeared, and we can listen to O’Hearn and Bozzio simultaneously improvising on different pieces (and at different times).

As a matter of fact, Tristano pursued the same procedure on his first Atlantic album, where Peter Ind and Jeff Morton rhythm section came from different performances from those later completed with the piano (Ind himself relates about it in his book Jazz Visions: Lennie Tristano and his Legacy, Equinox Books 2005). Of course, we can ask ourselves what was Zappa purpose while undertaking such an operation. Perhaps Bozzio and O’Hearn, musicians with a strong jazz background (the bass player had been a Gary Peacock student for many years and together with Bozzio had extensively played with the likes of Joe Henderson and Julian Priester), would have been able to simultaneously improvise each one at a different tempo, however Zappa was convinced of the contrary. “You can ask [your musicians] for it, but it won’t happen,” he said to Bob Marshall in 1988, “Suppose you were a composer […], there’s only one way to hear that, and that’s to do what I did.” As we can see, it is the same philosophy of Tristano.

Another significant example of the Zappa poetics concerns Inca Roads, one of the cornerstones of his entire career. The original version (different from the one included in 1975 in One Size Fits All) has been released in 1996 in The Lost Episodes and has been recorded 1973 with Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, Ralph Humphrey, Bruce and Tom Fowler, Ian and Ruth Underwood. After a long exposition, a truly complicated theme leaves room for trombone, flute and marimba solos; if it is not jazz pure and simple, we would like to know what it is. In fact, the first signs of this piece begin to appear since 1969, in the guitar solo of Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown; however, what is truly unique is how the solos performed on Inca Roads during the February 1979 London concerts then become, in the hands of Zappa, the starting material for at least three songs with different titles, all included in the double CD Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar (originally three different vinyl records). And we can go on and on.

Apparently the relationship between Zappa and jazz seems to have always been intermittent, concentrated in periods in which the jazz component has been really emphasized, reduced instead when rock has been the main language (for instance with the bands of the first half of the eighties). We suspect that such an understanding has been pursued and induced by Zappa himself by releasing, while alive, a deliberately confusing official discography.

Thanks to the advent of the CD, to the Rykodisc reprint of Zappa’s entire opus as “approved by the artist” versions – as already mentioned, often with new mixes and overdubs coming from historical material – and also thanks to the publication of a series of studio and live unreleased recordings, it has finally begun clear that the jazz practice has belong to the entire career of the Master from Baltimore, not really in a concealed way, making it impossible not to consider him also a jazz musician, among his various qualifications. Indeed we believe that, in some respects, Zappa has always wanted to conceal the most obvious features of his interest for jazz, not that much in terms of habits, rather for specific jazz characteristics, to avoid being locked into a cage destined to stay around him tightly. So his jazz incursions have always been seeded sparingly throughout his albums, dropped as Hop-o’-My-Thumb stones to indicate one of many possible paths within a monumental and largely to be explored opus.

For a long time it has been believed that very well-known albums such as Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo, both from 1972, represented the most clear point of contact between Zappa and jazz. In September of that year (confined to a wheelchair having being thrown in an orchestra pit by a deranged man) Zappa had left on tour with a remarkably large band: six brasses, six winds, keyboards, vibraphone and marimba, two guitars, cello, bass, drums and percussion. After the Hollywood Bowl opening concert, the band had flown to Europe for four shows (one of which was canceled) before returning to the US for other performances. The last concert, on September 24 in Boston, has been released on CD as Wazoo in 2007 only, it is an impressive document of the group sound and performance power (why it has remained unreleased for thirty-five years remains a mystery).

Also, we would say that it should be a must for any serious big band fan, since it completely belongs to those contemporary experiments conducted by Don Ellis and composers-arrangers like Hank Levy during that very period. Among other things, in those times, most of the musicians that play in Wazoo went in and out from Ellis Orchestra, but also from those of Stan Kenton and Gerald Wilson, as well as some of them would have been part of Blood Sweat & Tears, for example: Tom Malone, Glen Ferris, Mike Altschul, Jay Migliori, Earle Dumler, Ray Reed, Charles Owens, Ken Shoroyer and still others.

Having concluded this tour (economically disastrous), Zappa instantly left again for a second round of concerts, much longer – three months – and with a “portable” version of the former monstrous band: ten musicians, including him, all from the Grand Wazoo band plus trumpeter Gary Barone, yet another veteran from the California jazz scene and an old Shelly Manne pal. The new group had been re-baptised, no doubt, Petit Wazoo (however in retrospect, or so it seems) and a selection of their performances has been released on CD a few years back only (Imaginary Diseases, 2006).

Barone himself recalls that – during that tour – Zappa used to go to any jam session in the city after the concerts, right because, according to him, he was interested into diving – in his way – into the jazz environment, precisely as he had done in 1969 when, invited to Belgium to present the Actuel Festival organized by Byg, he found himself playing – as well as with Pink Floyd and the Caravan – with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, with the Archie Shepp group (which included, among others, Philly Joe Jones and Grachan Moncur) and with the rhythm section of the Chris McGregor Group, namely Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo.

The Grad Wazoo band will appear again in 1975, under the deranged moniker of Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Orchestra, for a series of studio recordings and, in September, for a notorious concert at the Royce Hall in Los Angeles; in December 1976 Zappa will perform live in New York with his regular band augmented with the likes of Randy and Michael Brecker, Ronnie Cuber, Lou Marine and Dave Samuels, while in 1988 he will focus on his last world tour – that would bring him close to an economic meltdown – with one of the most versatile and phantasmagorical bands of his whole career, that could face any genre and any arrangement with supreme ease. A band well represented on disc (Broadway the Hard Way, Make a Jazz Noise Here, The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life), but seriously undermined by relationship problems between some of the members.

Apparently, Zappa was so disappointed by the pugnacity and the infantilism of many of his musicians to convince himself once and for all that he could do without musicians, sure he had to. And we will always remain curious to know if two of the greatest manipulators of men in the history of modern music, that is Ellington and Zappa – who met in person in 1969 during a festival organized by George Wein – they had never discussed such an issue. Perhaps they would have agreed.


The 1988 Bob Marshall interview is available through Wiki Jawaka, while the Gary Barone interview mentioned by Luca Conti has been conducted by Charles Ulrich: An Interview with Petit Wazoo Trumpeter Gary Barone. This latter interview is part of the The Petit Wazoo Tour web pages, a nice place to raise your FZ in 1972 knowledge up!




The Listening Lounge at Kittelson Manor (from The Broadcast Adventures of HowieZowie facebook page)

The Listening Lounge at Kittelson Manor (from The Broadcast Adventures of HowieZowie facebook page)


From the facebook “About” page of “The Broadcast Adventures of HowieZowie”:

“Conceptual Continuity with HowieZowie” is a weekly two hour Zappa radio show broadcasting Thursday night at 10pm PST on Blue Mountain Radio KQBM-LP 103.7FM in West Point, California & KQBM 90.7FM in San Andreas, California – streaming live at Saturday night at Midnight EST on WERU 89.9FM in Blue Hill, Maine/99.9FM in Bangor, Maine – streaming live/archiving at Encore Saturday night at 11pm PST on Blue Mountain Radio KQBM-LP 103.7FM in West Point, California & KQBM 90.7FM in San Andreas, California – streaming live at

Here is the WERU Community Radio direct link to the Conceptual Continuity with HowieZowie archive page (only the last two episodes are available): click here.

Howie Zowie, aka Howie Kittelson, is a London (Ontario) based radio personality with a taste for audio editing. He accurately selects music for the talk over sections of his shows, and with Zappa the result is remarkable! A two hours radio show like Conceptual Continuity with HowieZowie conveniently flows and you may get some CC clue.

On July 28, 2016 such an all Zappa show got 5 years old, Howie Zowie had Joe Travers as a guest and Spastic Droopers as secret word.

Joe talked about The Crux of Biscuit / Frank Zappa for President new FZ releases and gives some cool hints for the releases to come, such as a Waka/Wazoo box set!

What follows is a transcript of some parts of the conversation Howie and Joe had (thank you Howie for the accurate editing of my raw transcript!).

29:47 (part 1)Overture to Uncle Sam

Joe Travers: It was for and in an Opera, and definitely was one of the later synclavier pieces of Frank’s – very very late in fact. We found some footage of Todd Yvega and Spencer Chrislu being interviewed for the American Composer radio documentary that happened in 1995.

And they used that piece as a demonstration for the Synclavier at the time, so it was definitely one of the later pieces. And we founded it on a reel of Ensemble Modern rehearsals and performances that ended up becoming Everything is Healing Nicely.

But Frank put together a 40 minutes collage of that that audio, lot of stuff on the rehearsals and I think Spence based most of what he, what Frank put together for Everything is Healing Nicely, but also on it it was the Overture to Uncle Sam.

I always kept that thing in my back pocket for some kind of release. Gail and I have talked about various different releases including that piece and then when Frank Zappa for President was offered to me as a project I really thought like that it would be a good thing to put it on there. And so that’s how ended up happening!

46:43 (part 1) –  If I was a President

Howie Kittelson: I see that the musical track and the spoken words were done in different times, were they meant to go together from the beginning or is that something that you combined?

JT: No, that’s something I combined.

HK: In that aspect it is very reminiscent of Drooling Midrange Accountans in Easter Hay.

JT: That was something Dweezil put together, obviously the same concept was used for the If I was a President thing.

1:56 (part 2)Brown Shoes Don’t Make It

HK: I see that was a remix done in ’69 by Dick Kunk, correct?

JT: Yes

HK: Now, what was the purpose of that remix, what is that associated with?

JT: We’ll never know. It is not listed as such, although my opinion is that it was probably remixed for some kind of film project.

HZ: Gotcha.

JT: But we don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it was Uncle Meat – I don’t know what that film project would be. But there’s a couple of other classic songs on that reel that were remix as well, so Brown Shoes is not the only one. But considering the theme of that song, I thought that it would be a good thing to put it on that album, because it’s an older Mothers song in a remixed form that nobody has ever heard before. So I figured that it would tie in with that record.

3:27 (part 2)Amnerika

JT: It was recorded during the Thing-Fish sessions – and all I can say is that piece, the vocal version of that song was intended for one of the volumes of The Lost Episodes project, because The Lost Episodes one time was kind of worked into a three volume project. Ans since Frank brought The Lost Episodes down to one disc, then there was a bunch of leftovers and that happened to be one of the leftovers. We do have the ability to do another Lost Episodes volume from those leftovers, but Gail was basically using a lot of stuff from that for other projects, or at least wanted me to. So, I figured – well this is the perfect time for this song for this project. I have to come up with content somehow, even if we kind of repeat things maybe once in a while in future releases, at least I was able to do what I was told and putting together that Frank Zappa for President record, so that’s where that song ended up!

19:23 (part 2)The Crux of the Biscuit

HK: I have always wondered to myself: was the use of apostrophe in so many blues song titles, could that have been an inspiration on Frank when he came to the apostrophe?

JT: Hmmmm, I don’t know – I’m not sure. I wish I could answer that (laughs).

HZ: Do you have your own theory about the apostrophe?

JT: I really don’t know (laughs), Dweezil kind of explains The Crux of the Biscuit on – I think, as far as like the term, what that means, what the apostrophe stands for – so you can check that out.

29:20 (part 2)Apostrophe (‘) early side one – Cosmik Debris

HK: The version of Cosmik Debris that opens that – the new 2016 intro, is that your doing?

JT: No, that was found that way and the mix of the song is the exact same mix that’s on the Apostrophe(‘) album, Frank took up that intro, and so when I found that early sequence of side one, that intro was on the version of Cosmik Debris on that tape, so I left it. Anything different applies to those kind of releases, that was Frank – that was recorded that way!

34:38 (part 2) – work mixes

HZ: So, when we’re looking at the tracks that are labeled as mix outtakes. Those are just working mixes from the process of doing the record?

JT: Yeah, exactly. Like you have a mix session and during the mix session you run off various work mixes or mixes in progress, or mixes that might be used as a master – or might not be. Anything that was mixed and was going to be on master at one point would be an alternate mix, because that was alternate to what was used. But anything that was mixed that wasn’t going to be used for any kind of a master, but it was a work mix or an outtake for the mix session, I just labelled as such.

35:26 (part 2)Uncle Remus

JT: Yeah, that’s pretty great! Because you get to hear a piano solo and an extra bit of vocals and stuff like that, it was pretty cool!

HZ: And some cool organ – I don’t know if that was a B-3, but there was some really tasty, traditional organ going on there that I am not used to hearing in that song.

JT: Yeah – well, that song was recorded during demo sessions of George Duke during the Paramount Studio time period in April of ’72. The Grand Wazoo and Waka- Jawaka have just been recorded and Frank produced about four tunes for George Duke around that time and Uncle Remus was one of those songs – and then Frank obviously used Uncle Remus in Apostrophe(‘). Then George Duke went on to re-record the other songs that were recorded for that demo session on two other albums. Psychosomatic Dung is one of them, and For Love (I Come Your Friend) – that’s another one that’s one of those songs that was recorded during that demo session.

36:41 (part 2)Waka-Jawaka / Grand Wazoo box set

JT: I’m going to be working on a Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo box set, I guess you might want to call it – or a CD release of all the alternates and all the stuff that was recorded during that time period. And I am hoping to get those George Duke tunes on there as well, so that would be something cool. Yeah, it’s Waka Jawaka and Grand Wazoo, sorry – Hot Rats was not recorded during that same time. You know, obviously that was ’69. But Waka and Grand Wazoo that was all recorded at the same time, and along with those George Duke songs it kind of captures the same musicians, the same time period and the same sound. So, all that stuff would be a good companion release.

41:50 (part 2)Energy Frontier flute

JT: I tried to track down who would have been, but nobody knows! Maybe the fans somehow can get that information – because they’re so hard core. I was unable to determine it because there were no session sheets, and so it’s hard for me to know. And I had a conversation with Dave Parlato. Dave Parlato played bass in the Petite Wazoo time period, and The Grand Wazoo – and recorded some stuff with Frank. And he is the guy who is playing stand-up bass on those songs – or at least on one version of that song. And so Dave and I had a conversation, and he is the one that identified himself on there. And he talked about the Jack Bruce session, talked about how Jack Bruce had a rented…I think it was a cello, and it sounded horrible and he couldn’t make the thing work at all, so they kind of ditched that idea of having Jack Bruce play cello. But, Dave didn’t know who played flute either. And first thing I thought of was it had to have been maybe somebody who was touring with Frank at the time. But in the Petite Wazoo the only person that maybe could have done that was Earl Dumler, and we’re not really sure he was him or not. And I didn’t get a chance to get in touch with Earl before the release of the record. So – maybe he is him, maybe he is not. Who knows!

43:31 (part 2) – bass lines

HZ: I found it pretty interesting listening to Dave Parlato’s bass line on take four of Energy Frontier because I’ve gotten quite used to a lot of brass bands using the tuba to do bass lines and they kind of emulate the phrasing of a stand-up bass – but he sounded like he was playing tuba lines on the stand-up bass! So it was a very interesting part of the spectrum and part of the mix that he was in and that stood out to me. I read somewhere that Dave Parlato is the originator of the “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” phrase – that he looked out the window of the tour bus and he saw a dog peeing in the snow and he yelled out, “Don’t eat the yellow snow!”

JT: Well I don’t know if that’s true – that could be very true. I don’t know. But, I do know that the bass line if you listen very close to the song called Trudging Across Tundra which is on One Shot Deal, that is an improvisation that happened during a concert in the Petite Wazoo time period… and if you listen to the bass line of that, and if you listen to the early version of Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow that was released on Crux, you’ll notice that it’s almost the same! So the root of the bass line to the opening of Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow come from an improvisational jam from the Petite Wazoo time period, which we released.

49:02 (part 2) – Vaultmaster since 1995

JT: I love my job, I’m very grateful for it. I spent so much time in my life just studying the music and being part of the music – so I’m happy that I can share the things that I find with people that appreciate it, you know? It’s really a special thing that I do and I realize that. I was a fan first before any of this stuff, so I come from a fan point of view and I think about the things that people would love to hear and would really want to hear.

51:28 (part 2)Uncle Meat Project/Object and vinyl reissues

JT: The Uncle Meat Project/Object is gonna be coming right around the corner pretty soon, so that’s very exciting. And also there’s going to be a lot of vinyl reissues this year, starting next month in August Hot Rats is going to be re-released on vinyl. But we’re going to be doing a lot more this year. We usually do about one to two releases – reissues on vinyl for the past few years, along with little exclusive stuff that we’ve done for the Record Store Days. But this year we’re gonna be doing a lot more – and that does include the Record Store Day stuff. So, we’ll be doing something really cool for Black Friday Record Store Day and we’re gonna be doing a number of other vinyl reissues this year before the year’s over with. So that’s something that’s gonna be exciting…for the audiophile world, you know, that loves the vinyl.

54:40 (part 2) – just one Zappa piece of choice for The Vaultmaster

JT: Rat Tomago


The 1995 Radio documentary mentioned by Joe was available at the and was described as: “a two hour Radio Documentary produced by Steve Rowland and Gail Zappa for “The Music Makers” Series on Public Radio International, originally aired on U.S. radio in the summer of 1996.”

What follows is a direct link for the first hour of the show, the first minute of Overture to Uncle Sam starts at 08:08.