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Frank Zappa - 'Tis The Season To Be Jelly CD (album) cover

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JELLY

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

2.88 | 17 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
3 stars This must be the earliest of Frank Zappa's 'Beat the Boots', the series of unauthorized concert recordings released by Zappa himself in a novel bid to cheat the illegal music market. It may even have some historical value, capturing the first and possibly best line-up of the MOTHERS OF INVENTION on stage in Sweden during a September 1967 gig.

The music, even more than on the band's first studio albums, is attractively schizoid. Listen to the opening medley as it moves effortlessly from Doo-Wop to Motown, by way of Stravinsky: a wild journey to be sure, but without any bumps in the road.

And at the same time it's remarkably sophisticated for its era, from when the complexities of Prog Rock were hardly a glimmer on the musical horizon. The first half of the only 36- minute long tape (Side One on the age-warped audio cassette salvaged from the closed stacks of my local library) is all fun and games, but it's during the second act when the band really shows its chops, and proves (not for the first time) that the Mothers of Invention was more than just Frank Zappa.

The nearly 24-minute 'King Kong' / 'It Can't Happen Here' reveals Zappa's debt to 20th century Russian classical music, and in retrospect shows just as clearly his own influence on the seminal Krautrock bands of the early 1970s (chiefly, the Dada cabaret act of FAUST). The semi-symphonic intro gradually transforms into a protracted Jazz-Rock jam (with some exciting saxophone work from one of the trio of horn players), before making a graceful transition to a typically atonal Mothers of Invention freak-out, with roots in the European classical avant-garde tradition.

This last half included everything from silly, synchronized Swedish vocals to unexpected instrumental breaks to what sounds like the buzz of a spinning short-wave radio dial, but make no mistake: nothing here is left to chance. Zappa was no doubt 'conducting' the nine- piece band in his trademark fashion, controlling every burst of supposedly wayward noise with a series of body gestures worthy of Leonard Bernstein.

As an added bonus, the sound quality throughout is surprisingly acceptable for an illegal bootleg. The abbreviated length and throwaway packaging are disappointments, but diehard Zappaholics may want to add at least another half-star to my conservative rating.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |

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