Archive for January, 2013

Finer Moments

Posted: January 20, 2013 in album review, zappa
"Finer Moments" - Reclaimed vintage linoleum assemblage (32" x 48"), 2011

“Finer Moments” – Reclaimed vintage linoleum assemblage (32″ x 48″), 2011

“Compilation & Title by FZ”, liner notes of this new album (released on December 12, 2012) say, and the expectation is high! The Mothers of Invention, 1969 mainly, with a percussion only 1968 episode, and a fantastic instrumental contribution from the 1971 band. There is also an electronic wheelchaired 1972 cut, but consider it as an historical insert, we can fantasize it has been constructed while digging in and working on the 69-71 recordings. Both the material and the editing approach reveal a strong affinity with Burnt Weenie Sandwich. The main difference here is that sometimes the sequence of the pieces does not seem to be definitive as compared to FZ standard (especially on the second cd), and also some abstract or theatrical episodes are left full length, or at least seems too long to fully integrate with the rest of the program. By contrast, if you go for BWS after listening to Finer Moments you realize how the BWS program had been amazingly assembled: the flow of the pieces and the balance between them are at the highest level of effectiveness of the FZ productions. The liaison between the two albums is highlighted also in the gorgeous cover, where you can spot BWS depicted as a picture on the wall in the background.

The album opens with the Zappa spoken intro at Royal Albert Hall (London, June 6, 1969) followed by Sleazette, a guitar solo from the same concert. You will find yourself near the highest of the FZ guitar canon, you will immediately day-dream of a 60’s SUNPYG prequel. Right after the album presents the first not so effective sequence. The next track is in fact a 6:22 long Mozart Piano Sonata In Bb. Those 6:22 must have been fantastic live, but here the relevance is almost only historical, and after a couple of minutes the energy of the previous 3:33 is lost. Then follows The Walking Zombie Music that starts as improvisational chamber music with some electronics, and more or less after the first half it deviates and became fun and electronics, with a final recorded rap (over some typical MOI madness) that quotes the following track title. A proper intro for The Old Curiosity Shoppe, a 1971 improvisation episode (from Billy the Mountain), which includes a Ian Underwood electrified alto sax solo (with wah-wah) followed by a Zappa solo. The track (and the guitar solo) ends abruptly with a “make-believe record scratch”, and “end side one” is declared by the voice of FZ. Side two of this 1972 vinyl left behind project, starts with You Never Know Who Your Friends Are, from February, 1969. After an almost casual intro, a deviant harmonica medley (including Oh! Susanna) starts, dubbed by a sort of stride piano melody, and by a lot of MOI madness, which became Mexican MOI madness for the finale. Curiously, in 1969 Al Kooper released an album by the same name with a song entitled like the album. Since there is a vague (stylistic) resemblance between the piano track used by FZ and some piano parts in the AK homonymous song, a question arises about the FZ titling choice. It could have been  a double irony: a pop song vs. a piece of MOI madness (on a musical level), candid pop lyrics vs. “Chingale a tu madre”! Anyhow, the next segue works very fine and brings into Uncle Rhebus even though the real beginning of the live recording has been cut. This is a re-edited version of a “teenage medley of two” (as FZ announced at the Ark) consisting of Uncle Meat and King Kong. In this version King Kong is more represented, but at about 4:00 the Uncle Meat theme appears (keyboards) in a Charles Ives-ish arrangement over most of the band continuing playing King Kong, one of the best finer moments! A great piece, even though all building blocks are known, since included in The Ark (Beat the Boots I), and also because includes Baked Bean Boogie (here starts at 12:01) and Piano/Drum Duet (here starts as a coda at 15:37) from YCDTOSA #5. However a significant portion of the listening joy of this 17:43 “movie for your ears” is given by the razor blade editing. Zappa himself closes the first LP saying “Steve, it’s a good place for a reel change”, a great one, the only minus to me is track 3, not only because it is too long and it needs a visual aid, but also because in that position kills Sleazette.

Disc 2, or LP two, starts with the well known Music From The Big Squeeze, followed by the only 1968 piece, Enigmas 1 Thru 5. Percussion only, probably a FZ conducted improvisation, 8:15 long. Compared with other projects (main references here are BWS, Weasels Ripped my Flesh and YCDTOSA #5 disc 1) it seems too long to be ready for an album release. And as far as enigmas, the next Pumped And Waxed is even more puzzling. Recorded in 1972 at Zappa Basement, it does not seem more than messing around with electronics to explore what can be done with such technologies (being on a wheelchair?). Towards the end some excerpts are more interesting, bits of a proto Mo ‘N Herb’s Vacation? The next is another well known one, here named There Is No Heaven From Where The Slogans Go To Die, included as You Call That Music? in YCDTOSA #4 (the two are slightly different actually, a matter of 30 seconds). It is interesting to note the different use of this piece in the two different contexts, as far “stylistic flow” is concerned. And the same note applies to the following, well known also, Squeeze It, Squeeze It, Squeeze It (see also YCDTOSA #5 and Mystery Disc). It is now necessary to fully quote the YCDTOSA criterion just mentioned before: “Does the inclusion of this song help the stylistic flow of the album by providing contrast or relief?”. I think this principle has been followed by Frank Zappa throughout the Project/Object, and the craftsmanship shown has been terrific. That’s why I have the feeling that this side 3 (tracks 1-5 of cd 5) was still work in progress. There’s a lot of interesting material, but I would have expected contrast and relief to be more balanced. Having said that, the whole side 4 is devoted to the second movie for your ears of the album: The Subcutaneous Peril from Carnegie Hall, 1971. Building blocks for this movie are taken from Pound for a Brown (the first guitar solo) and King Kong (electronic intro, keyboards solo, drums solo, second guitar solo). The material is well known (well, recently well known) but again, the editing idea is amazing. Two of my favourite finer moments are the beginning of the drums solo and of the second guitar solo, both based upon the same simple melodic idea. Also, it is interesting to note that FZ used a pseudo stereo effect here, while the original tape is in mono (as it appears on the Vaulternative release).

Expectations satisfied? Of course yes, even tough I would not consider Finer Moments an unreleased album, rather an amazing left behind work in progress. If you look at the unreleased The Weasel Music Side 1, The Artisan RS 6406 Acetate or even The Impossible Concert (as they are known in the wild), I hope there is more to come as ZFT releases, with this audio standard.

A further note on the cover. Bill Miller has already designed the cover for Congress Shall Make No Law … , he is a remarkable artist, and browsing the galleries on his web site you will find another FZ portrait:

The Grand Wazoo, 2008, vintage linoleum assemblage, 16" x 20"

The Grand Wazoo, 2008, vintage linoleum assemblage, 16″ x 20″

Finally, further discussions about this title are available through the zappateers forum (go to this thread, the main source for this post). Also, thank you zappateer Pat Buzby for your comment.