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Frank Zappa - Jazz from Hell CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.43 | 254 ratings

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4 stars "JAZZ FROM HELL". The title alone is enough to pique any normal record buyer's interest. So I bought it, knowing full well of the bumpy ride ahead of me. It IS FZ, y'know; so it ain't gonna be no sugar-coated pop music. Knowing that, I threw it on. I was expecting ANYTHING but what I heard.

The opening track, "Night School", opens like typical 80's synthesizer pop. But it's Frank behind the steering wheel, so expect some twists and turns. Dissonant keyboard notes intertwine and weave around a steady 4/4 drum machine groove, punctuated by what sounds like hand clapping. It's weird, impenetrable and obtuse, much like what is to follow. It also shows that, in addition to being a blistering guitar player, he's also a talented keyboardist and a challenging composer.

On to the next track. "The Beltway Bandits" has a rather serene opening, with delicate synthesizer opening onto a bizarre keyboard run, backed up by what sounds like a sampled voice and synthetic kick drums. Midway through, the synthesizer takes on a saxophone-like timbre. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to what is being played, and thus, what the listener is hearing. Again; it's a weird and out-there piece of "music". But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable, especially if you like to be challenged by the music you hear.

"While You Were Art II" is like a collage of sound, seemingly as if Zappa found a bunch of sounds on his Synclavier, thought they were cool, threw them together and called it a song. It's not, but it's extremely suggestive of such. The computerized kick drums suggest a beat, much like the pastiche of keyboard and synthesizer suggest a melody, and thus, a composition. Around the 2:29 mark of this piece, the "beat", as it were, fades out, leaving only those bizarre sounds and nothing else. At the 3:47 mark, the beat picks back up, switching up with some cool synthesized snare sounds. But it's so incredibly random; sounds come and go faster than the listener can process them. And as for making some sense of them? Forget it.

The first two seconds of the title track are remarkably pastoral (for Zappa, anyway). It all goes downhill from there, lapsing into more weird noises and synth plink-plonk. The sounds here alternate between synthesized bass, what sounds like a saxophone, and regular keyboards. In comes a synthetic kick drum, but it doesn't even suggest a beat this time, almost as if Zappa got bored with what he was doing and decided to totally tank the tune. Truth be told, it's the worst "tune" on here.

The laughably titled "G-Spot Tornado" is another 3 minute ditty, quite fast-paced, featuring a whooshing synthesizer alternating with a rapid-sounding kick drum pattern. In the background, if one listens closely enough, one can hear heavy breathing. It wouldn't surprise me if he taped some heavy breathing and moaning from a porno movie and used it for this piece. It really DOES sound like the soundtrack to a porno from hell! The melody from 0:25-0:39 is very pretty, though. But the rest of the time, the track lapses into dissonant noises and found sounds. It IS challenging though, so I gotta give him credit.

"Damp Ankles" opens with what sounds like someone taking a shower; hence the title, I think. This one has more of a steady beat, so it seems easier to follow. Again, more bizarre sounds come together over the by-now irregular kick pattern, making it more difficult to follow. And is that laughter I hear, acting as a rhythm instrument?

In addition to his abilities as a writer and producer, what a lot of people like most about Zappa is his knowledge of the six-string, and "St. Etienne" is a full-band piece showcasing his fluency. It opens with some bluesy bends and dissonant chords over a sped-up rhythm section, moving in and out of 6/8 time. Drummer Chad Wackerman and percussionist Ed Mann prove how capable they are of following Zappa's flights of fancy, taking off on a twisted groove, or laying down an off-beat pattern here and there. A gold medal must also go to bassist Scott Thunes, for not deviating from the arrangement laid down. Later on, the rhythm becomes incredibly random, as does the lead playing. And I don't hear any rhythm playing. Where, might I ask, or Steve Vai and Ray White?

The last track, "Massaggio Galore" has a bunch of found sounds and voices over another random-sounding beat, if you can call it that. It's noisy, dense and just freaky.

I'm fairly new to FZ, only having a few of his records, and enjoying them, even though I know just how much he likes to screw with perceptions. This disc sounds claustrophobic, noisy and (mostly) tuneless, except for parts here and there. Having said that, I'm gonna go ahead and give it four stars. It's not a masterpiece, but the idea of a masterpiece is subjective anyway. 'Sides; we can't all be right...can we?

nahnite | 4/5 |


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