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Frank Zappa - Roxy & Elsewhere CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.36 | 342 ratings

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5 stars You Want Zappa? THIS is Zappa!!!

This review for the live double album ROXY AND ELSEWHERE may seem a little strange. For awhile I am going to rave that this is perhaps the perfect example of Zappa in his full glory, I am going to award the excellent 4 stars rather than the masterpiece rating I gave the studio counterpart ONE SIZE FITS ALL. The reason for this is that many of the things that make Zappa great don't have much to do with prog. The fact that of all the satire and comedy on Frank albums, the spontaneity of the delivery on "Cheepnis" and "Penguins in Bondage" is part of what makes this album so good. Listening to Frank's interplay with the audience and the band makes this seem still fresh 25 years later and long after his death.

I'm sure there are other example, but this is the only I album I know that is composed of completely new material released as a live album. There are few bands in rock history that would actually benefit from this approach, but Frank's band at this time was one of the best ever on stage. Zappa has had some mind-blowing musicians move through his band, including truly phenomenal drummers. But Chester Thompson seems to connect with Zappa's groove better than any, to my ear. Similarly, George Duke's phenomenal talent seems to be fueled by pure joy. And of course, the percussion / mallets of Ruth Underwood add a degree of virtuosity to the group that Frank's son Dweezil draws on heavily for the current band Zappa plays Zappa. Even if this band wasn't the best in terms of raw talent (and they very well may have been) they were so tight and played with such energy, that this period of Zappa's career is some of the best of the 70's.

As a two disc set, each individual side constitutes a separate experience. Side one leans heavily on humor, with an ode to lovemaking paraphernalia and a soulful sarcastic look at higher education "Dummy Up." It is side two, however, that is the gem. Easing the listener in with the deceptively pleasant "Village of the Sun," the song transitions into "Echidna's Arf (of you)" which is one of the most complex pieces Zappa ever wrote. Which is saying something. Seeing this performed live by ZpZ was one of the most mindblowing experiences of the vast number of shows I've seen in my life. Rapid fire, complex time lines are traded from member to member, played in unison, played in counterpoint, in harmony, all with simultaneous perfect execution and still a sense of groove. After using this tour de force as an exposition, the band takes off in more improvisatory direction on those themes in "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?" During this section, passages resembling Gentle Giant, brass jamming, and more rapid composed sections alternate with transitions simultaneously surprising and tasty. The three "songs" are really just a continuous piece and in my opinion constitute a high point in prog.

Side three reverts back toward the tone of side one, with Frank pontificating on monster movies and life in LA. "Sons of Orange County," which would be an oddity on virtually artist's work, is a relatively straight, soulful piece that allows the listener to settle just a little bit just before Frank unleashes one of his fiery solos, building to a messy speed picking pentatonic outburst before settling into a smooth as silk jazzy gem. Side four is a single song entitled the "Be-Bop Tango." It incorporates a few of the elements found on side two, some extremely strange timing, but eventually becomes and extended jam, and an audience participation dance contest! It is of course the most ambitious tune, and some of it works and some of it doesn't. (Perhaps if you were there things would be different.)

After listening through again, I am very tempted to go ahead and throw the five star rating on this one. It's not perfect, but contains some simply extraordinary music, some of the best from the genius that was Zappa. And when it occurs to me that there is certainly more than a single album's worth of masterpiece material, I'm going to go ahead and do it.

Negoba | 5/5 |


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