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Frank Zappa - The Grand Wazoo CD (album) cover

THE GRAND WAZOO

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.31 | 574 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Those of you who may not be aware of the vast musical universes excavated and explored by Mr. Frank Zappa have my pity. I'm no FZ expert by a long shot but I'm sure of this. If you think you know what he was all about you're probably wrong because he was and still is, by definition, an enigma. His genius had more angles than one of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes and not one of his many albums displays the exact same side as another does. Suffice it to say that he epitomizes the phrase "one of a kind" and, sadly, we will most likely never be blessed with an artist quite like him again. He was the ultimate rebel that broke every accepted rule while somehow maintaining the utmost respect and admiration from both his peers and the general public at large. He was, indeed, bigger than life. Frank was a living, breathing icon of progressive music and thought that was taken from us much too soon.

During his early 70s stage he was able to staff his personal orchestra with the very cream of the recording industry because there wasn't a musician of merit in the known world that didn't consider it an honor of the highest order to work with maestro Zappa. Therefore one is compelled to listen in awe at the stature and quality of the sounds emanating from albums like "The Grand Wazoo." Taking that factor into consideration, the astounding feat achieved by drummer Aynsley Dunbar throughout this record is even more impressive. If you've had a tendency to under-appreciate this bad boy's skills on the trap kit then this will be a real eye-opener for you. He is nothing short of flat-out amazing here and his performance alone is worth the price of admission.

At first glance the thirteen-minute title song might seem to be nothing more than a glorified jam session but if you delve a little deeper into the track and pay strict attention to its fine detail you'll be richly rewarded. "The Grand Wazoo" employs a delicious, tantalizing shuffle groove to present its airtight case and Frank's coyly underplayed wah-wah guitar lead gently guides the listener into a sort of Glenn Miller-on-acid big band attack. This introduces the central theme plus its spawn in the form of intricate melodies that'll twist your mind into loose granny knots. Tony Duran supplies a piercing bottle-neck slide guitar solo, then the horn herd takes you through some more interesting complexities before Bill Byers dazzles you with his terrific trombone work and Sal Marquez blows you away on his trumpet. While this is transpiring you'd be wise to notice the intriguing incidentals that abound as they dart in and out of the background constantly. Eventually the whole shebang dissolves into wonderful chaos until stickman Dunbar reins the misfits back in and restores order in the court of Mothers. After a brief reprise of the main theme Don Preston tosses in a short but compelling mini-moog ride just before the sudden ending arrives. The undiluted joy that exudes from the musicians is contagious and won't be denied. This is the kind of tune that, if you're lucky enough to have a rag-topped automobile, is custom-made for cruisin' down the road with the stereo blasting. It's prog music you can feel good about sharing with the neighborhood.

"For Calvin (and his next two hitch-hikers)," however, is the kind of song that progmen can get into but most jocks, girlfriends and wives HATE so be forewarned. Its sinister feel and Zappa's opera-house- gone-mad approach to telling the sparse but obtuse storyline initially comes off as woozy hangover music but when the weird singing stops it morphs into a Miles Davis meets eclectic rock conglomeration where a distinct and dignified modern jazz sensibility rules. This kind of confection personifies the core of Frank's unique vision. The music constantly evolves and mutates in directions impossible to predict and the apparent total group involvement where every one of the 15+ members plays a pivotal part in creating the whole panorama of sound is incredible and a testimony to Zappa's immense leadership talent. Non-proggers won't have a clue, though, and that's why, if you have nosy or annoying roommates who won't go away, you need only put this on and the pesky slackers will vacate the premises pronto. Guaranteed.

The briefest cut on the album, "Cletus Awreetus Awritus," utilizes more of a standard rock platform yet it's anything but ordinary. Following a furious beginning, keyboard guru George Duke delivers an upright acoustic piano lead (with a playful, saloon-style timbre) interspersed with hot saxophone jabs from Ernie Watts before Frank & George color the premises with some pompously sung rum-pum-pums and tra-la-las that take the number into another dimension altogether. Speaking of Mr. Duke, his wicked electric piano onslaught serves as the warm-up act for the heavy riff that characterizes the next cut, "Eat That Question." As George's Rhodes ride pins your ears back pay special notice to what Aynsley is laying down on the drums as he alternately leads and follows the flow of the instruments around him. (Aspiring drummers take note: Great ones like Dunbar possess the unselfish ability to be acutely aware of what the players around them are doing, adding timely accents and kicks to heighten the effect of their bandmates' solos.) Zappa then makes a bold entrance with his sizzling, echo- drenched guitar that drives the group to a climactic, nova-like collapse. Frank's guitar slithers out from under the melee like a snake while the band reassembles and parades a gallant gladiator movie-type theme into the fade out. Never a dull moment.

Next up is one of the biggest surprises in the entire FZ catalogue, the blissfully gorgeous "Blessed Relief." This song shows a side of this artist seldom seen in that it unashamedly paints a graceful and beautiful watercolor setting that's on a par with the best in the cool jazz genre. The way the woodwinds and brass complement each other, Sal's tastefully delicate trumpet, Duke's tranquil electric piano and Zappa's understated but poignantly naked guitarisms all contribute pure magic to this soothing piece. The final ensemble section is prog heaven as it slowly slips around the bend and out of sight like a river in spring.

If all you know of Frank Zappa is the comedic (yet extremely entertaining) "Montana" or "Muffin Man" aspect or as the sarcastic master of ceremonies of "Roxy and Elsewhere" then this album will open up a whole new vista in the way you view his artistry. He was not only able to take on most any sect of music and conquer it totally; he also applied his indelible stamp on them that, in one way or another, altered them forever more. He made us reevaluate everything we thought we knew. This album shows how he did that to jazz/rock fusion. 4.6 stars.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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