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Frank Zappa - The Grand Wazoo CD (album) cover

THE GRAND WAZOO

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.31 | 588 ratings

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The Ace Face
4 stars Frank Zappa has one of the most interesting combination of talents in the history of music: the ability to create intelligent, unique, and incredibly complex pieces of music, and to make fun of everything in the world with ease and intelligence. He always has grouped around him a very talented group of musicians who love to play his music. He does exactly this on his 3rd of the three jazz/fusion-y albums. This album is a take on the Big Band Style, and the liner notes contain a whole plot line telling of a battle between bands. The horn section is big, and my favorite is Ken Schroyer, credited as playing multiple trombones.

Grand Wazoo: Equivalent to The Gumbo Variations and Big Swifty, this is the album's big extended jam song. It kicks off with a lively 6/8 beat, with some nice guitar soloing from Zappa, and the drums in the background are intensely unique. When the horn section comes in, the sound is hugely more full. You can almost imagine this music playing at some old people dance, but not quite. The next guitar solo is simple, but great, augmented by more horn fills. Soon, the main band cuts out, and the trombone solo starts. Being a trombonist myself, I naturally appreciate how demanding this solo is. It blows my mind that he can move the slide that fast. Underneath all this, the percussion is going wild. There is somewhat of a break as the main horns come in with some strange tones, and then the muted cornet comes in. Again, very very talented and skillful, this solo is incredible. The percussion continues to be stellar, seemingly soloing underneath the cornet solo. After all this is done, the horns come in with the main theme again, followed by a reprise of the earlier guitar theme with horn undertones. Then comes a fantastic keyboard solo from our own George Duke, a more than adequate replacement for Ian Underwood on keyboards, with the only downside being Duke only plays keyboard, whereas Underwood played winds too. After the keyboard solo, theres a small coda, and then the end.

For Calvin and his Next Two Hitchhikers: the only song with vocals, this starts off with some weird acoustic guitar notes, and the singers vary from stoned-sounding to deep and dramatic. the lyrics make no sense, as is typical of Zappa, and the horns in the distance complete this very interesting sound. The bridge section has some very interesting percussion, and positively weird keyboard solos from Duke, and a small horn solo, that appears to be a man half asleep blowing into the horn. This crescendos into a massive plethora of dissonance. Then it all dies out and the sax introduces the next theme over some militaristic snare drumming, and plenty of insane horns accompanying it all. It all ends with a reprise of the opening theme.

Cleetus Awreetus Awrightus: The Peaches En Regalia of the album, this song crams huge amounts of music into 3 short minutes. Duke really shines on piano here, with tons of lightning runs that just blow your mind, and the horns do plenty of crazy riffing while the drums change time signatures like mad. The piano solo in the middle is stellar, and is followed by a very angular sax solo, sounding much ike David Jackson of Van Der Graaf Generator. Then we get the deep voice la-la-laing the main theme, sounding very silly indeed.

Eat That Question: Starting with a slow keyboard intro, this song builds into a major freakout by the end. The intro gradually speeds up, and introduces the main riff, which is typical Zappa in that it is long and awesome. The other instruments gradually add in until the electric piano takes a long solo, followed by a stellar guitar solo from Zappa. The hammond organ blasts us in and takes several jarringly dissonant runs to bring us out of ego land. The guitar reprises the main riff very slowly and deliberately as the drums go wild. A short break is followed by the full band blasting in with the riff, with sax in the foreground, to outro it all out.

Blessed Relief: The slower 6/8 jam is a masterful close to this album, with the cornet taking lead at the beginning, harking back to the opener with the guitar tone as well. The electric piano trills in the distance like a flute, and the drums are very symphonic, lots of brush use. The regular trumpet then takes a solo that actually makes me feel a little sad/nostalgic, which never happens with Zappa. this is followed by an absolutely amazing electric piano solo as the tempo picks up a notch, and then a guitar solo with that weird effect on it again. This leads us back to the main theme and to the end of the album, and what an album this was.

Overall, an album certainly on par with the glory of Hot Rats, and another classic for Zappa. I'm not calling it a masterpiece, because the insanity on Calvin went on a tad too long, and hence it is not perfect. Certainly, though, one of the essential Zappa records.

The Ace Face | 4/5 |

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