Archive for November, 2016

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!