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Frank Zappa - The Ark CD (album) cover

THE ARK

Frank Zappa

RIO/Avant-Prog


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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.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#241064)
Posted Wednesday, September 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars You have to wonder what Frank Zappa was originally planning to do with this recording. During the show, he announces the recording of the show to the audience, and describes the set up. Apparently there were three microphones spread across the house, in front of the PA system. But the sound must not have been up to Frank's standards, as he never released it, until the "Beat The Boots" releases. And if this was taken from the original tapes, I can understand why. The sound, while very good for a bootleg, is not anywhere near what Zappa seemed to expect on his albums.

The performance itself was very very good. While there are a few simple songs on the album (Big Leg Emma, Status Back Baby this played in a different rhythmic style than on "Absolutely Free, Valerie and My Guitar), the prize cuts are the instrumental gems.

Some Ballet Music (Frank kept the title as it was written on the original bootleg album) is a piece that eventually was used in "200 Motels". And if you are a Zappa fan, you should know Uncle Meat and King Kong. These are played in a medley form. Both tracks underscore just how good and versatile Zappa's band was in those years.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#307680)
Posted Sunday, October 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Another bootleg which was "stolen" back by Frank Zappa and sold as a single CD and also as the 2nd disc in the Beat the Boots I collection. There are a few stories circulating around about the recording of this bootleg, one of which is that the venue (the Ark) set up it's own recording equipment for Frank and when Frank went to get the master tapes, they had somehow disappeared. Other sources say that Frank had his own copies but the bootlegged version got released before the release date for the official version. The copy that was eventually legalized and added as part of the Beat the Boots collection is supposedly a copy of the bootleg.

The recording quality is not perfect as what you would find in an official release and doesn't even come close to Frank Zappa's standards, even for something that was recorded in 1969. (The date of 1968 printed on the album is incorrect btw.) I would call the recording "fair". Whats nice about this particular bootleg is that it was all recorded at one concert and there are a few old gems on here. It's great to hear Frank Zappa conversing with the audience throughout the recording. I do believe that this is the only live recording available that has Frank Zappa singing the lyrics to "Status Back Baby" but I could be wrong. Also, if you listen closely to "Some Ballet Music" you will hear snippets of future music including "The Adventures of Greggary Peccary" among others. Despite the less-than-optimal sound quality here, you can still feel the excitement and the excellence of the musicianship especially on the side long medley of Uncle Meat/King Kong. This almost 24 minute long suite goes by much too quickly. The bootlegger apparently ran out of tape or time on both sides of this recording because the jams are both interrupted, one side by a needle scraping across a record and the other side by some other kind of tape noise. If you have "melted into the jams" as I am inclined to do, these interruptions will most likely scare the crap out of you. But it's all good. If you are looking to expand your FZ collection, then, even for a bootleg, this is one you might want to look for more for historical content than for hysterical content. Good album, great performances, fair quality recording, make this a good but non-essential album for FZ and the Mothers fans.

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Send comments to TCat (BETA) | Report this review (#489872)
Posted Sunday, July 24, 2011 | Review Permalink

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