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Frank Zappa - The Grand Wazoo CD (album) cover

THE GRAND WAZOO

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.31 | 609 ratings

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LiquidEternity
Prog Reviewer
4 stars As the second of the conceptual and musical sequels to Zappa's widely regarded masterpiece Hot Rats, The Grand Wazoo is a bit weaker but still definitely worthy of attention.

In comparison with Hot Rats, this album is much more built on cinematic layers of big band sound, rather than extended jams. Again, as with both Hot Rats and Waka/Jawaka (the second in the trio), vocals and lyrics are very rare and underutilized, at some points to the music's advantages and at others not. Here, the only song with singing is For Calvin, but it's similar vocal styles to earlier Mothers songs, not like the cheerful crooning of Captain Beefheart. Aside from that track, however, it's entirely instrumental and entirely something of a cross between big band sound and expansive progressive jazz fusion instrumentation. Though there are a number of points of high energy, this release is mellower and slower than Hot Rats or Waka/Jawaka. On the whole, nevertheless, the music here is cleverly written, dramatically orchestrated, and representative of the strange and expansive range of Frank Zappa's unique musical explorations.

The album (or at least the CD version) opens with the title track. Most of the tune is built on a massive big band style, mostly brass but with the occasional beautifully crisp clean guitars like on Peaches en Regalia. The two main themes fit together nicely, the first being a sliding brass sound and the second being a rake-picked clean guitar that brings an indefinable energy to the track. From there, however, the track resolves into a long saxophone solo that comprises most of the central ten minutes of the song. During that long middle period, the song threatens to dissolve into experimental bits that detract from the glory of the beginning and ending but don't stop the flow of music here. A final reprisal of the main theme and clean raked guitars together at the end brings this song towards its conclusion.

For Calvin (and His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) features the sole lyrical adventure on the album, but these are rather weird and haunting lyrics. A creepy beginning meanders forward, filled with menacing sounds and haunting vocals. About halfway through, the song dissolves into strange experimental noise bits, overlaying lots of instruments but just barely hanging onto musicality like Mothers often failed to do. In the end it's an interesting track, but probably the least impressive off The Grand Wazoo.

Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus is the Peaches en Regalia of The Grand Wazoo, in its own way. However, rather than just being another song like its predecessor, it packs energy and vitality into a short little track. Quirky vocals reminiscent of Zappa's forthcoming One Size Fits All album add a human element to this odd piece of excitement.

Next comes the well-composed Eat That Question. It begins with a more mellow sound, developing a melodic and intriguing main theme. It then turns to a long keyboard solo that works very well with the song. Throughout this whole piece, the drums are going about as crazy as can be expected, and are some of the best examples of rhythm work in Zappa's music probably until Joe's Garage. About halfway through, a quintessential Zappa guitar solo breaks in, returning us to the more jam-oriented feel of Hot Rats. This solo continues through a detonation of the song, building it back up with a reprisal of the main theme, which the band then rejoins and powers this song to its end.

Blessed Relief is a mellow and beautiful track built around clean guitars and saxophones. It feels almost like a big band swing song, except the guitar and gentle horns take precedence. One Zappa's most friendly guitar solos fills in a lot of the middle section of this piece, ending in a reprisal of the main theme, fairly similarly to the title track and Eat That Question in terms of song layout.

What this comes down to is a really nice album that is shot in the foot by a few poorly composed sections and a few ideas that just fail to properly translate. However, for Zappa fans, this is essential, and for people unfamiliar with Zappa, this will probably be album number two, as Hot Rats should come first.

LiquidEternity | 4/5 |

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