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Frank Zappa - Uncle Meat CD (album) cover

UNCLE MEAT

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.13 | 355 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Frank Zappa: Uncle Meat [1969]

Rating: 8/10

NOTE: This is review of the original album. I'm ignoring the useless CD bonus material.

Uncle Meat is Zappa's first foray into the complex jazz-fusion that would arguably become his most characteristic style. The Mothers' previous style has reached its creative peak on We're Only in It for the Money; not content to rest on his laurels, Frank continued the relentlessly creative bar-pushing that made him such a great composer. The psychedelia, satirical doo-wop, and social commentary are largely eschewed here in favor of complex, multi-textured, and mostly instrumental composition abounding in xylophone, marimba, sax, flute, clarinet, keys, and of course Zappa's characteristic guitar playing.

"Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme" opens the album. This is a short xylophone-centered piece with a catchy main hook. "The Voice of Cheese" is the first of the many hilarious spoken-word interludes. "Nine Types of Industrial Pollution", a long guitar solo with a banjo vibe, is one of my favorites. "Zolar Czakl" is a very brief reprise of the title theme, with free-jazz inspired percussion. "Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague", the song that most harkens back to early Mothers material, features bizarre vocals, acoustic guitar, and squealing sax. "The Legend of the Golden Arches" focuses on reeds, with harpsichord closing the piece. "Louie Louie" is a short live excerpt with free-jazz sax and organ. "The Dog Breath Variations" brings back the keys and the xylophone (or marimba; I can't tell the difference). It's a short and very complex composition with brilliant musicianship. "Sleeping in a Jar" is a short vocally-orientated piece with jazzy sounds. "Our Bizarre Relationship", another spoken-word intermission, follows. "The Uncle Meat Variations" is a longer and more complex reworking of the title theme. Piano and tuned percussion take the lead again, and crazy vocals also show up. Zappa plays a short solo at the end. "Electric Aunt Jemima" is another revisiting of the Mothers' early style, and is one of the less interesting songs here. "Prelude to King Kong" is a fantastic free-jazz influenced sax-centered piece with a great drum hook. A kazoo rendition of "God Bless America" follows. "A Pound for a Brown on the Bus" contains more complex musicianship and another great hook. "Ian Underwood Whips It Out" is a sax improvisation that displays how great of a musician Ian Underwood is. "Mr. Green Genes" harkens back to Absolutely Free with zany lyrics about vegetables. "We Can Shoot You" is a very abstract improvisation that almost sounds like an early Zorn piece. "If We'd All Been Living in California?" is another spoken-word track. "The Air" is a satirical doo-wop song with funny lyrics. "Project X" opens in a very pleasant manner with soft acoustic guitar and reeds. Tuned percussion comes in and turns the song into a fascinatingly complex whirlwind. "Cruisin' for Burgers" opens with quirky vocals that lead into guitar/xylophone interplay. And then we have "King Kong", the magnum opus of the album. This is a lengthy jazz-fusion epic with a legendary groove and a monstrous hook. Topped off with fantastic keyboard and sax work, this song becomes one of Zappa's best.

This is a superb album that showcases Zappa's compositional brilliance. This was also a rather groundbreaking and innovative release; it features electric jazz-fusion and was released before In a Silent Way. However, there are two factors that prevent Uncle Meat from being a five-star affair. First, it contains a decent amount of filler. I think that some of these songs could have been scrapped in order to create a more stylistically cohesive and less inconsistent whole. Also, Zappa's jazz composition had not yet reached its full maturity here; the release of Hot Rats a mere six months later would bring about Zappa's true compositional heights. These are two minor complaints, however. This album is absolutely fantastic and is one of the strongest jazz-influenced albums of the late 60s.

Anthony H. | 4/5 |

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