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Frank Zappa - Piquantique - Stockholm 1973 CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.75 | 43 ratings

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3 stars This Stockholm concert from 1973 saw Frank Zappa's band in transition, somewhere in between the subversive vaudeville of the original Mothers of Invention and the juvenile obscenities of later albums. No theatrics, no biting social commentary; just a lot of killer instrumental music, with a stronger Jazz-Rock Fusion slant than on other Zappa recordings.

Be aware that it's an unreconstructed bootleg, released by Zappa with no cosmetic cleanup whatsoever, in a novel attempt to kick the legs out from under the illegal music market. But it doesn't take very long to become acclimatized to the iffy sound quality, honestly no worse than the original audience might have heard in 1973. And the music itself is often spectacular enough to allay the concerns of even the strictest audiophile.

The group at the time was an octet, featuring electric violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and the husband-wife woodwind-percussion team of Ian and Ruth Underwood. But the entire band is incandescent, galvanizing a trio of shorter, energetic numbers in between the two extended standout tracks; the 11+ minute Dupree's Paradise (sadly abbreviated by an unfortunate fade out during another torrid Ponty solo), and the near 21-minute workout of Father O'Blivion.

The title to the latter track is just a flag of convenience, as it bears little resemblance to the studio version from the yet-to-be-released 1974 Apostrophe (') album. Instead, it's a twenty minute orchestrated jam (not an oxymoron in Zappaland), highlighted by astonishing solo turns by Ponty, Bruce Fowler on trombone, Ian Underwood on clarinet (or is that an oboe?), with a truly jaw-dropping tuned percussion turn from Ruth. All of it builds to a breakneck syncopated climax, which Zappa then insists the band repeat because (not surprisingly) they muffed a few of the notes!

More astonishing still is Zappa's own assessment of this band, as quoted by biographer Barry Miles: "I was amazed they could even relate to each other, they were so boring." Existing videos don't exactly contradict him (I direct your attention to YouTube: search the files for Opopoppa Special). It's true this particular group was not as anarchic or visually exciting as the original Mothers. But a more virtuoso bunch of players never shared the same stage.

It's a shame a more professional recording of this gig has never surfaced, or the original Swedish TV broadcast from which the bootlegs were first taken (at least I don't think they have: can any Zappa heads confirm this?). The sound quality here rates no higher than two stars at best, but the performance is easily in the 4+ star range, giving the album a solid three-star average rating.

But for true Zappaholics (and I'm fast becoming a charter member), it's never less than essential listening.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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