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.


  1. Emanuele says:

    Nel caso non esistano 40 minuti worth of material scelti e miscelati da FZ stesso, sarebbe un’ottima idea da parte di Joe prendere il miglior materiale esistente e, se proprio non vuole farci una release a sé, infilare tutto nel cofanetto Waka/Jawaka – Grand Wazoo che ha semi-annunciato…

  2. Malcolm McNab’s liner notes are cool but wrong in the Dutch venue of the Grand Wazoo Band. He mentions Rotterdam though that must be The Hague (Houtrusthallen). That was also my first concert and my 1972 ticketstub of that concert can be seen in the Wazoo release, me known as “ticketmonger” – PaulB

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