Archive for August, 2016

The Crux Of The Biscuit Frank Zappa For President CDs

The Crux Of The Biscuit
Frank Zappa For President
CDs

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Out of the blue, on June 9, while many had been pondering about trustees and beneficiaries of the Zappa integrity and of his overwhelming and strangely managed output, ZFT trustees announced the world, including beneficiaries of any sort, two new releases due to July 15.

Frank Zappa for President? You betcha! We know at various times he wanted to run for office. In the spirit of the dramatic 2016 presidential election adventures comes a release that gives us a glimpse into what could have been. This album is comprised of unreleased compositions realized on the Synclavier, along with other relevant tracks mined from the Vault, with a political thread tying it all together. Don’t forget to register and vote!

The Crux of the Biscuit was created in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Frank Zappa’s 1974 album Apostrophe(‘). As part of Zappa Records’ ongoing Frank Zappa Project/Object Audio Documentary Series, it contains rare alternate mixes, live performances, and studio session outtakes. This release celebrates Zappa’s iconic, Gold-certified album, which landed in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart.
source: zappa.com

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Unreleased synclavier compositions, never heard before mixes of ’60s and ’70s classics, nuggets that shed new light on the studio compositional process, live episodes relevant to two basic themes: the President of the USA and 42 years of trudging across the tundra.

In summary: succulent!

However from the outer FZ space perspective, I can’t help feeling still scary of the future, and I do hope the Zappas will be able to continue digging the vault, and I also hope the “cease and desist” nightmare will not happen as it does in the darkest canyons of my mind.

But forget about this mess for a couple of hours, take a deep breath and immerse in these two albums.

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The Crux Of The Biscuit (Zappa Records/UMe ZR 20020, July 15, 2016)

The Crux Of The Biscuit
(Zappa Records/UMe ZR 20020, July 15, 2016)

The Crux Of The Biscuit

1 Cosmik Debris 4:21
2 Uncle Remus (Mix Outtake) 3:59
3 Down In De Dew (Alternate Mix) 3:16
4 Apostrophe’ (Mix Outtake) 9:07
5 The Story Of “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” 2:25
6 Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast (Live) 19:26
7 Excentrifugal Forz (Mix Outtake) 1:34
8 Energy Frontier (Take 4) 3:04
9 Energy Frontier (Take 6 With Overdubs) 4:15
10 Energy Frontier (Bridge) 8:23
11 Cosmik Debris (Basic Tracks-Take 3) 5:11
12 Don’t Eat The Yellow (Basic Tracks-Alternate Take) 2:12
13 Nanook Rubs It (Basic Tracks-Outtake) 0:42
14 Nanook Rubs It (Session Outtake) 0:48
15 Frank’s Last Words . . . 0:16

Produced by Gail Zappa and Joe Travers
Vaultmeisterment and audio transfers by Joe Travers
Mastering: Bob Ludwig
New mixes: Craig Parker Adams, 2014

Cover photograph: Yoram Kahana (probably) [uncredited]
Other photography: Emerson/Loew, Mark Aalyson, Jeffrey Mayer, Michael Mesker
Illustration: David Calcano/Christian Garcia
Art direction: Ahmet Zappa
Package design: Michael Mesker
Liner notes: Simon Prentis
Production Manager: Melanie Starks

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For most listeners, Apostrophe(‘) is mainly the place where snow is yellow and feet stink. Also, the Bromhidrosis epic is where THE question arises: “What is your Conceptual Continuity?” Since the easy to be seen answer is “The crux of the biscuit is the Apostrophe(‘)”, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of the best known FZ albums without Stink-foot – hence without Fido who will eternally bring those stink-fated slippers and gives THE answer – is like giving praise to Don Quixote not mentioning Sancho.

Let’s commemorate such conspicuous absence with the commercial that inspired a distinguished dog-man relationship (relevant scene at 0:17):

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That said, The Crux Of The Biscuit is a must for hard-core fanatics due to plenty exquisite episodes, and may have a lot of interest for the rest of the world, for instance for the main Yellow Snow celebration, almost 20 minutes live from Hordern Pavillon, Sydney, June 1973, a tape that should become road, if you know what I mean.

The album, possibly the last produced by Gail and Joe, starts with a proto Apostrophe(‘) side A (tracks 1-4) whose main interest is the dynamic duo Down in the Dew/Apostrophe’, new to mankind as a dual system. Simon Prentis, who delivered a truly relevant piece of zappology as liner notes, gives information and his own view about Energy Frontier, the original title of such a double jam sessions. Simon quotes a well-known Zappa statement:

Q: What about playing with (bass guitarist) Jack Bruce on Apostrophe?

FZ: Well, that was just a jam thing that happened because he was a friend of (drummer) Jim Gordon. I found it very difficult to play with him; he’s too busy. He doesn’t really want to play the bass in terms of root functions; I think he has other things on his mind. But that’s the way jam sessions go.

Frank Zappa
By Steve Rosen
Guitar Player, January, 1977

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Then he reports (via joe Travers) that those Dew/Apostrophe’ jams were all recorded on November 8, 1972, also with an unknown flute player on tracks 8 and 9. As effectively remarked by Prentis, the subsequent work has been an editing matter, that night after night shortened Jack Bruce contribution and brought Down in the Dew out (later to emerge for Läther without Jack Bruce in a version near to track 3). What is presented here (proto tracks 3 and 4, and jam tracks 8-10) is the evidence of a process that started with a jam session, continued with a proto dual system (with Bruce in Apostrophe’ only) and ended as we know it simply as Apostrophe’. Thanks to this album, now we know better why Zappa said that Bruce was “busy”, it seems that such a one-day encounter didn’t give what could be theoretical expected in terms of interplay, but the way the bass guitar of Jack Bruce sounds in these unreleased jams is gorgeous (a FZ post-production?) and some of his lines are truly remarkable (like those delivered into the first minute of the original Apostrophe’ – and of track 4 – that give a clear mark to that jam).

So editing as a major Zappa craft and practice, and “omission” as a keyword to guide the transition from the on-field recorded matter to the edited recorded object to be released. That is one the main subjects of the liner notes, fully available through simonprentis.net, a must read!

And omission is at work within lyrics too, significance is often hidden or lies on a metaphoric level, or may be even almost faint in cases when information is delivered for conceptual continuity purpose only.

The Crux Of The Biscuit, and its liner notes, brought this blog to closely consider the mysterious and elliptic lyrics for Excentrifugal Forz (a Mix Outtake belongs to this album too) and hopefully get nearer to some of the omitted points. See what you think:

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The clouds are really cheap
[Reality is not so interesting]
The way I seen ’em thru the ports
[That’s how it looks to me]
Of which there is a half-a-dozen
[A little part of it]
On the base of my resorz
[Is what I have been doing]
You wouldn’t think I’d have too many
[From everyone point of view, a very little part]
Since I never cared for sports
[Because I’m an outsider]
But I’m never really lonely
[But I don’t care to be seen/understood]
In my Excentrifugal Forz
[My nature is to escape from what is accepted by most people]

There’s always Korla Plankton
[And if I feel too much out of reality (as Korla Pandit do!)]
Him ‘n me can play the blues
[I can always play the blues]
An’ then I’ll watch him buff that
[And I will enjoy shining every single blues canon]
Tiny ruby that he use
[… canon …]
He’ll straighten up his turban
[… canon …]
An’ eject a little ooze
[… canon …]
Along a one-celled Hammond Organism
[The blues is an archetypal culture, as one-celled organisms are archaic forms of life]
Underneath my shoes
[And it is part of me, deeply]
An’ then I’ll call PUP TENTACLE
[I can also get inspiration from cheap monsters]
[The monster in Cheepnis, a “pup tent affair”, seems to be recalled here, as noted elsewhere by Simon Prentis, it may represent one of those “clouds”, or reality as constructed/perceived by most people]
I’ll ask him how’s his chin
[I can image further mutations]
I’ll find out
[And doing so]
How the future is
[Time as everyone knows it]
Because that’s where he’s been
[Loses in significance]
His little feet got long ‘n flexible
[And I found myself on a spherical time constant]
An’ suckers fell right in
[Far from what is accepted by most people]
The time he crossed the line
[That’s where my mutations live]
From LATER ON to WAY BACK WHEN
[Because when I deal with my favorite mutations, before and after do not make sense anymore]

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A few more remarks are needed to close the not yellow side of this album, discussion is open at zappateers and other FZ loci. Cosmik Debris (track 1) opens with an unheard before brass intro. This version of Uncle Remus includes new and not to be missed Ikettes embroideries, but also further gorgeous George keyboard treatments. Apostrophe’ (mix outtake) shares the drum intro with Stink-foot (the only link discovered so far with the Fido song). The two Energy Frontier takes are two different Down in Dew versions with Jack Bruce, Energy Frontier (Bridge) is actually an early version of Apostrophe’. Cosmik Debris (Basic Tracks-Take 3) includes a new bluesy FZ solo and is a no vocals version to be sang to!

The Crux Of The Biscuit starts dealing with Yellow Snow with the words of FZ introducing this new piece in 1973. He tells how he was also inspired by an Imperial Margarine commercial, “Good morning, your highness!” comes from it. Unfortunately only a bad quality recording of such a promotional feature survives into the Internet, but it is worth watching anyway (the “black gentleman” commercial starts at 01:02).

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Margarine inspired also the 1973 Mar-Juh-Rene routine, well-known but officially released only in 2008 in One Shot Deal as part of Australian Yellow Snow. This routine is also included here in track 6 which is an extended version of the Yellow Snow suite, also including Rollo and part of the Steno Pool section of Greggery Peccary. Both versions derive from the June 24-26, 1973 Sydney concerts, once again, road one please!

In his Zappa dissertation, Tomasz Michalak digs into significance and symbols related to the apostrophe and hyphen (“something that might be used for erotic gratification by a very desperate stenographer”) signs. He also quotes FZ who recalls a linguistic inspiration for Yellow Snow in two different interviews:

I had a conversation in approximately 1972 with a schoolteacher in Kansas. She taught English. And she was talking about the way language works. And her point was that any language develops for a culture based on the things that the culture needs to talk about. And as an example she said in Eskimo language they have, you know, a whole number of different words for snow because snow is their life. And she was the one who said maybe they even have something for yellow snow, which you wouldnít want to eat it. And thatís what gave me the idea. (FZ, interviewed by Jim Ladd, August 1, 1989)

And:

as an example she talked about the Eskimo language, which she said had twenty words for snow because it was so important to them. And she actually made the comment that probably in the Eskimo language there was some sort of warning for children not to eat yellow snow. And thatís where the idea came from. (FZ, interviewed by Allan Handelman, East Coast Live, June 6, 1993)

Quoted (P.293) into
“THE MEGAPHONE OF DESTINY-” COMPOSITION, VOICE, AND MULTITUDE IN THE AUDITORY AVANT-GARDE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: GERTRUDE STEIN, SAMUEL BECKETT, JOHN CAGE, AND FRANK ZAPPA
Tomasz Zbigniew Michalak
A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (English Literature) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)
December 2013

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The album closes with three early snippets from the Yellow Snow suite and a last brief track with Frank stopping the tape. Very hard-core maniac type stuff with no commercial potential at all, enjoyable for a limited audience such as Rne who noticed in his “rudimentary notes” that “the marimba figure and the laughs that were inserted at the very end of “Father O’Blivion” in the Apostrophe (‘) album” are included in Frank’s Last Words… .

For the full story of the Yellow Snow suite I would recommend a brief article by Charles Ulrich hosted on the ARF web site: “Some notes on the Yellow Snow suites permutations

Finally the original artwork for the back of the CD inlay deserve to be mentioned. It’s a Zappa cereal box probably illustrated by David Calcano of Fantoons Animation Studio in Los Angeles. Here it is with some details (click the images to enlarge them).

The Crux Of The Biscuit, CD inlay image Zappa cereal box

The Crux Of The Biscuit, CD inlay image
Zappa cereal box

The Crux Of The Biscuit, CD inlay image detail Nutrition Zappa Facts 1

The Crux Of The Biscuit, CD inlay image detail
Nutrition Zappa Facts 1

The Crux Of The Biscuit, CD inlay image detail Nutrition Zappa Facts 2

The Crux Of The Biscuit, CD inlay image detail
Nutrition Zappa Facts 2

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For further notes on the cover of the album refer to the Information Is Not Knowledge (IINK) web site, at the beginning of the Apostrophe (‘) notes page.

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Frank Zappa For President (Zappa Records/UMe ZR 20021, July 15, 2016)

Frank Zappa For President
(Zappa Records/UMe ZR 20021, July 15, 2016)

Frank Zappa For President

1 Overture To “Uncle Sam” 15:16
2 Brown Shoes Don’t Make It (Remix) 7:27
3 Amnerika (Vocal Version) 3:10
4 “If I Was President” 3:43
5 When The Lie’s So Big 3:38
6 Medieval Ensemble 6:31
7 America The Beautiful (Bates/Ward; Traditional) 3:36

Produced for release by Ahmet Zappa & Joe Travers
Vaultmeisterment, transfers and compilation by Joe Travers
Mastering: Gavin Lurssen & Reuben Cohen
Art direction: Ahmet Zappa
Art, layout: Keith Lawler
Production management: Melanie Starks

Cover art details available at the proper IINK web page.

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If The Crux of the Biscuit objective as an Audio Documentary is very well stated and accomplished (including omissions), with the support of informative and in-depth liner notes, Frank Zappa for President appears like an unglued sequence of nuggets and lush unreleased pieces joined together by a political thread that ends up to be too weak in absentia.

Also, from a hard-core fanatic perspective the album is full of interest beside the basic theme, but such material would have deserved more informative liner notes.

Take Overture To “Uncle Sam” for instance, since this piece is in the repertoire of Ensemble Ascolta for the never released project Ascolta Plays Zappa, it would have been very interesting to hear their point of view about this composition dated 1993. And why not take them for a note to the other synclavier material included?

Part of Overture To “Uncle Sam” has been premiered by the Ascolta ensemble at Radialsystem, Berlin, July 14, 2007 (the 0:00 – 4:49 section). An excerpt (2:35 – 4:49) is available through their web site.

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The version included here is ten minutes longer than the Ascolta one and features the sonic palette typical of the late FZ synclavier works that can be heard in Civilazion Phase III and Dance Me This. Also, Overture To “Uncle Sam” should have a close relationship with the Wolf Harbor suite. No link instead with Dio Fa (the abandoned FZ opera project) as elsewhere stated in this blog (the notes to the Berlin, July 14, 2007 Ascolta ensemble concert program led to this probably false conjecture: “planned as an overture to an opera for La Scala in Milan, world premiere”).

To focus on the right Uncle Sam / Wolf Harbor setting you should go back to the liner notes to Dance Me This:

Over the years I had seen Frank jump from project to project often shelving one indefinitely to focus on another. There was an elaborate stage piece titled Dio Fa; An opera titled Uncle Sam (about a dystopian future America with a ludicrously polluted New York Harbour); A music notation book with accompanying audio disc titled The Rhythmic Sadist’s Guide to Drum Patterns for the 21st Century.
Todd Yvega–

In his vision for a staged presentation for modern dance [FZ] described how he wanted to represent Wolf Harbor (do the research on this place which really does exist): Groups of dancers side by side would hold long rolled out lengths of black trash bags (think Hefty) and “wave” them at waist (waste) height to signify the dark and murky polluted waters of sludgy Wolf Harbor.
Gail Zappa–

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A sort of unresolved melancholy in a suspended time environment is a feeling common to both compositions. The difference resides in how the tension ends up to be unresolved. In Wolf Harbor tension is low and everywhere, time is suspended, no resolution allowed.

Overture To “Uncle Sam” features a main melodic (and melancholic) material used as opening and with some variations at 02:02, 05:58 and 11:08. Right after every variation tension grows and its resolution seems to happen when the listener recognizes the melodic material, but relief is denied when he realizes that melancholy is still there. The finale is true Zappa: tension grows again and closes with a sort of brief broadway hoopla!

The illusion of a resolution results to be more effective than no resolution at all!

Hoopla! back to 1966/1969, Frank Zappa for President brings the listener to a never heard before remixed version of Brown Shoes Don’t Make It, a pleasure for everyone, especially for those who spent countless time with this 1966 sonic movie and will recognize all details changed in this remix. Acoustic ensemble is often clearer and the overall sound image results spatially enriched. In this case also it would have been much interesting to know what was the purpose of such a 1969 remix. Rejected for the 1969 Mothermania (which included the 1966 mix)?

No particular questions to ask for Amnerika (Vocal Version), a well-known (for FZ tape traders) and beautiful unreleased Thing-Fish outtake that needed to be released. Maybe one: why it has been rejected?

“If I Was President” is Zappa explaining in 1990 why he “wouldn’t campaign” but “file as a candidate of no party” with a 1985 synclavier background (for the full text transcript please refer to the relevant IINK web page). Was it a Zappa produced audio object?

An unreleased 1988 When The Lie’s So Big take follows, politics is of course the rationale for the inclusion, however the hard-core fanatic (the main audience for this album) attention declines, this version does not add zappology elements (except for some slight changes in the lyrics) and it does not give particular help to the flow of the program.

For the next Medieval Ensemble, an unreleased 1985 synclavier composition, attention is back. It sounds like a Jazz From Hell outtake, a long march with no resolution with a medieval flavor, could be used for the eternally postponed Terry Gilliam Don Quixote!

The album closes with another 1988 episode. The America The Beautiful version digitally (mp3 only) released in The Frank Zappa AAA·FNR·AAA Birthday Bundle 21.Dec.2008 Nice to have it in a good audio quality (but strangely different from the official 1988 releases), relevant to the main theme, but in an album of unreleased material and with a surprising 1969 mix of a classic, the role of this song is simply to close the curtain.

Now I’m wondering, in an album like this, where politics in America is a theme sometimes loose (Medieval Ensemble?!?), why do not take advantage of the lines:

Could result in the end
To a worrisome trend
In which every American
Not “born again”
Could be punished in cruel and unusual ways
By this treacherous cretin
Who tells everyone
That he’s Jesus’ best friend

to include another bundle nugget that unethically still remains unreleased in a lossless audio standard? I’m thinking to Treacherous Cretins from The Frank Zappa AAA·FNRAA·AA Birthday Bundle 21.Dec.2010, a killer version that needs to expand its audience.

Moreover, can you spot any treacherous cretins somewhere in this 2016 USA campaign?

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