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Frank Zappa - Sleep Dirt CD (album) cover

SLEEP DIRT

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.58 | 181 ratings

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jtabacco
4 stars "Sleep Dirt" is a collection of instrumental pieces that showcase Frank Zappa's eclectic compositional genius. The kick ass opening track "Filthy Habits" (originally slated for a double album - "Night Of The Iron Sausage" - later to become "Zoot Allures") features a very nasty sounding ostinato over which FZ experiments with very dynamic guitar feedback, (very reminiscent of the composition "Zoot Allures"). The whole piece has a rather Arabian vibe to it modally but ultimately it veers into a psychotic little march toward the very end. A classic Zappa guitar excursion.

Track two, "Flambe", is a parody of the popular standard "Laura". It is a cocktail tour de force with the versatile George Duke doing his best "Art Tatem -ish" imitation. Chester Thomson (drums) and Patrick O'Hearn (bass) add to the drunkenness of the piece while Ruth Underwood on marimba emphasizes the constantly building melody sometimes in tandem with the piano. After a slight variation of the main theme, FZ steers us off into a very cartoonish section that is very regimented and far from the loose drunken feel of the previous passages. There is even a little "yelp" one can hear mid way through this section as if a cartoon character is being put in some uncompromising position. FZ had such a great sense of humor and here his mastery of comedy and serious art is in fine form. After this short excursion into cartoon land we are brought back to the cocktail bar scene again. This time the band is a bit more laid back but the expressive melody in marimba and piano soon build to a beautiful climax and end on a very regimented / stern sounding section that seques nicely into "Spider Of Destiny".

Like "Flambe", "Spider Of Destiny" contains vocals for FZ's unfinished musical "Hunchentoot". And although Thana Harris sings well on these tracks if you can find the original vinyl recording of this album listen to that instead. For me, the vocals are too distracting and the compositions here are so strong they don't need any words to cloud up the brilliance of what's going on below. On "Spider of Destiny" we are treated to a catchy whole tone melody that is almost nursery rhyme like in spots. The form is very clear and very structured in a "German kind of way". where the guitar part works with the ensemble instead of just as a purely solo vehicle. The work ends with a jab of very dynamic guitar outbursts and then a seven note passage (variation on the main theme) repeated and augmented by some twisted sounding chimes. The piece ends on a chime hit and bang! The drums kick into the "Regyptian Strut" a funky brass laden processional that dates back from the "Grand Wazoo" days. This master work features some crackling, low funky bass playing from James "Bird Legs" Youman, a perfectly slow, funked up groove from Chester Thomson, surprising gospel type piano jabs from George Duke, jangling and scraping percussion from Ruth Underwood and of course the brilliant trombone playing of Bruce Fowler who executes all the basic melodies and chords. A recurring five note melody is actually a quote from "Saturn" by Gustav Holtz a work FZ admired. Here he exploits this melody on top of a plodding ostinato, building on it like he was constructing an Egyptian pyramid. The brass parts keeps piling up and the tension mounts until just when you think FZ can go no further he pulls out all the stops and takes us up a half step! The result of which is nothing short of orgasmic. The entire processional exclaims the main majestic melody and proudly ends with the beating of a major chord with a seventh in the bass leaving the listener elated and exhausted.

The next piece, "Time Is Money" is a progressive jazz/ rock work. Again there are words here that do nothing to enhance what is already a lovely melodic piece. Avoid the singing when possible. In fact, you can find a version without vocals on the "Lather" collection. The sweet melody of "Time Is Money",played by FZ on guitar, is constantly being broken up by question mark segments that consist mainly of drum rolls on the bell of cymbals, angular vibes, piano chord clusters and synth bass. These segments go into a very precise mechanical riff (enhanced by an array of cowbells) that is reminiscent of clock gears. Some of it reminds me of a section from the "Roxy and Elsewhere" number "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing". The overall work is very visual in a "Greggery Peccary" sort of way.

Next we are confronted with an FZ rarity: an acoustic guitar number. It's the title track "Sleep Dirt". FZ prepares us for this touching acoustic guitar work by saying "Arf" just so we don't take it too seriously. Here he is solely supported by James "Bird Legs" Youman who plays a somewhat melancholy chord progression while FZ improvises over the top. Frank is in fine form here, constantly inventing new melodic passages with odd rhythmic groupings. There is an almost Eastern European flavor that emerges in the types of scales FZ favors which makes the whole event extremely exotic sounding. Eventually, the piece comes to a fragmented end with FZ asking, "Gettin' tired?" To which Youman replies' "No, uh uhh - my fingers got stuck."

Quick edit right into the the last piece, "The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution". It begins with a casual rock groove with Terry Bozzio on drums and Patrick O'Hearn on bass. I believe this was O'Hearns actual audition for FZ. In any event, there is a structured melody here with typical FZ melodic jumps and a quick, progressive unison passage that goes into a funky groove emphasized by FZ's chorused drenched strat. This is a progressive rock instrumental with clearly defined sections that ultimately ends up in an eight minute jam that exploits O'Hearn's bass prowess and burns with Zappa's fiery electric guitar chops. Outstanding musical communication.

Overall this is an excellent album (marred in my opinion by unnecessary vocals and awkward Chad Wackerman drum overdubs) that showcases the restless mind of Frank Zappa. Find the original vinyl for best listening results. If you like this CD you will also enjoy it's two siblings, "Studio Tan" and "Orchestral Favorites".

| 4/5 |

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