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Frank Zappa - The Ark CD (album) cover

THE ARK

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.25 | 22 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars One of the earlier tapes in Frank Zappa's 'Beat the Boots' collection of unauthorized concert recordings is also one of the best, with the MOTHERS OF INVENTION in their prime during a 1968 gig at the Boston club of the album's title. The set is generous (nearly 52-minutes long); the sound is excellent (a professional recording, not an audience bootleg); and the performance is a revelation for someone (like me) familiar with only the band's first few studio albums.

Even better, there's some classic Zappa banter between each song, introducing and commenting on both the music and the music industry, already a nemesis at this embryonic stage of his career.

I'm guessing the set list was more or less typical for an early Mothers gig, beginning with the fun stuff and only later moving to the more challenging (but no less playful) part of the show. Thus the comedy pastiche of (according to Frank) the "smash-flop single" 'Big Leg Emma' leads to a modern mock-ballet sequence, no doubt presented for laughs, but played for real, and credibly so. This was long before Prog Rock began robbing the tombs of Europe's more polite classical composers, but Zappa was always ahead of the cultural curve.

And no amount of anarchic humor can hide the genuine intelligence on display, particularly during the 24-minute 'Uncle Meat' / 'King Kong' medley, filling all of Side Two on the cheap audio-cassette unearthed at my local library. The eight-piece band is here playing almost like a small orchestra, featuring an exciting drum duet (I assume it's Jimmy Carl Black holding down the steady beat, while Arthur Dyer Tripp flails away on top), and at least one jaw-dropping solo: a free-jazz spine curler by ace trumpeter Buzz Gardner.

It's hard to connect the very real virtuoso thrills here with the Doo-Wop vamps and private jokes heard elsewhere in the early Mothers repertoire. And it's even more difficult to believe a fusion of classical-jazz-rock this advanced was being played in 1968, when Herb Alpert was at the top of the charts.

Too bad the album (each side of the cassette version) is cut off in mid-jam by the now anachronistic sound of a phonograph needle skittering over vinyl. It's a clever way to edit an overlong tape to fit on one side of an LP, but the unexpected cuts are frustrating nonetheless. With only a slight face-lift (just a little digital nip-and-tuck) this could have been released as a legitimate CD, without the stigma of a bootleg to scare away any prospective fans, who might otherwise miss an exciting, entertaining show.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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