FRANK ZAPPA/Understanding America: With only one track unique to this collection, it's kind of the odd duck of the Zappa oeuvre in that he really couldn't do greatest hits compilations and he was much too diverse to do a best of package that would resonate in any relevant way because it would be something for everyone while probably being nothing to all. This was the last of the Zappa created compilations and it's pretty much sat in the vaults since 1991 as past reissue campaigns reverted to shorter themed compilations. It's probably easier to divide Zappa among eras than themes and styles since his comedy from the 60s was way different form his comedy from the 80s. And instrumentally, he used much slicker players as he went along which would divide the instrumental camps. Such decisions when you have so much talent. This is an over view from over a dozen Zappa albums, everyone will bitch their fave tracks were left off and the newbie might well come away more confused about Zappa than ever---or thirstier for a deep drink. Hey, he was one of the geniuses of the 20th century, you want easy answers?
FRANK ZAPPA/Make a Jazz Noise Here: In which we stroll down another yet Zappa avenue. In the late 80s he was leading a big band and they played jazz, through a Zappaesque filter. Here's two discs worth of "jazz" jams where the high end players get to stretch out, improvise and generally raise all the hell their little hearts desire whether turning difficult classics on their heads or musically detailing what happens when yuppies go to hell. For anyone that loves it when he shuts up and plays his guitar, and let's his fellow travelers do what they came to, this is a little slice of teen aged heaven (sorry, you have to listen to the comedy too to get the reference). Challenging music that isn't work to listen to.
FRANK ZAPPA/The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life: Another two cd slice of life on the road circa 1988, this set differs form the other two sets from the same period in that Zappa tosses in the kitchen sink. The only version of "Lonesome Cowboy Bert" this side of "200 Motels", a reggae cover of "Stairway to Heaven", a look back at his 60s and 70s comedy fave pieces, a cover of "Ring of Fire", "Godfather Theme", "Bonanza Theme" and more by one of his tightest, solidest aggregations that prove they can play anything. Certainly a must for any late period, eclectic enthusiasts, Zappa is going around the bend and playing it straight at the same time. Possibly the entry set for Zappa fans of any era and age, it might just be his best, non set piece live album.
FRANK ZAPPA/You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore V. 1: Working on his back pages and taking pains to beat the boots, this first entry in the series isn't built around themes like the subsequent volumes. This set takes in loads of stuff from 1969-84 and shows just how much room there was for improv both musically and "lyrically" as different version of tracks you know from the records are totally off the rails here, but of course, this wasn't made for corporate sanctioned release---at the time. Featuring something from just about all the different bands during these years, this is a wild omnibus ride that certainly gives you a kaleidoscopic, prismic, you are there cat bird seat at the evolution of it all. Possibly the best way to get someone into early Zappa and get them to understand what the magic in the madness really was. Solid stuff throughout.
FRANK ZAPPA/You Can't Do That On Stage V. 2: The second custom made live set Zappa turned in under his nascent Ryko contract was parsed together from two shows in Helsinki with one of his classic line ups hitting it on recent material while playing with the audience and making his crew adjust on the fly, even if the audience wasn't aware and didn't fully appreciate what they were hearing. Largely a set of prog rock that can stand toe to toe with any of the period dinosaurs, the energy and vibe flowed in mighty river fashion. Not an essential set but the kind of thing that complete freaks flip for with the added benefit of being from far away places with strange sounding names. Worth checking out at least to find out what you missed.
FRANK ZAPPA/Guitar: The double cd, six years later companion piece to "Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar", which netted Zappa his 6th Grammy nomination, is just what the shredder fan asked for. With everything from "Inna Gadda Stravinsky" to the kitchen sink on board, the noodling, the riffing, the full on stringed attack, a smattering of all of it is here and fine display. This is obviously for the Zappa instrumental freak. It really shows how if nothing you do is a throwaway, there's really no waste. Hot stuff.
FRANK ZAPPA/Does Humor Belong in Music: Recorded on the road in the last quarter of 1984, this didn't see a US release until a decade later even though it was out in the rest of the world all that time. Recorded in a period when Zappa was learning about new electronics, naysayers have noted the juxtaposition of his humor songs with a lifeless sounding backing. Give something to get something, this is also the first appearance of his crack band of the 80s and any complaints about the electronics have to yield to the heart of the players. With several songs getting their first airing here, this is the kind of set that's sure to appeal to hard core collectors but will have the generalist scratching their head as essentially all the tracks here are available in other configurations, often with the proper polish applied to keep the tourist happy.
FRANK ZAPPA/Jazz From Hell: The idea of Zappa having total autonomy because he mastered the synclavier is now as quaint as Marilyn Monroe's subway grate pic. Radical at the time, but time moves on. Mastering the synclavier gave Zappa the total freedom he always craved because all his visions could be realized without any human interference. At the time (1988), one of the major bitches about the use of new electronics was the lack of human element. If you knew how and what you were programming, complaints like that were soon to fall by the wayside. This album was about as nutty as you can get instrumentally without being an art council fundee. It managed to be the only instrumental album to be banned by Walmart for it's lyrical content and it did win the Zappster a Grammy. Even if you aren't a fan of his instrumental side, particularly the late period experiments, this is the kind of stuff that can make you a believer.
Volume 36/Number 7
November 7, 2012
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record
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