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4 stars An electronic masterpiece, one of the best records ever made in the eighties, a concept album that broke the line and end up receiving a grammy award. This album expreses the itchy mind of Zappa toward the next century, after these, many bands "stole" the sound of the master. A note... the album line-up only plays in one track
Report this review (#29691)
Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars A jazz progressive album, one of the best examples concerning such a great versatility and his creativity as well. There's no a particular track I like to point out, because every song has its own peculiarity and is well worth checking out!!


Report this review (#29692)
Posted Friday, April 23, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars "Jazz From Hell" might be the strangest album FRANK ZAPPA ever recorded, and that's really saying something. Composed almost entirely on the Synclavier, the composer has complete control over every sound, which is a very dangerous thing. For the listener, this is like being inside a musical ion collider where hundreds of notes are aimed at each other, some exploding and some simply bouncing harmlessly off the walls. But there's always a method to Frank's madness, isn't there? While I've found this a tough nut to crack, those arty folks at the Grammys apparently deciphered this and named it Best Rock Instrumental performance in 1987. Honestly, I don't think they understood this music any more than I do, but its potential for greatness is frightening -- it's so unique, so complex, so mathematical in its calculated chaos that if history does one day decode this album and find in it a Rosetta stone for some new musical direction, you couldn't credibly argue that you didn't notice it at the time. Toward the end of the album, Frank takes a break from the computer and inserts a typically molten live instrumental featuring his touring band at the time, "St. Etienne." It adds nothing to the ZAPPA legacy, of course, but all work at the Synclavier and no playing live makes for a dull album. The rest of "Jazz From Hell", while fascinating in its extremes, isn't enjoyable on any but the most intellectual of levels. By compounding the chaos usually reserved for Ruth Underwood's solos, to borrow the words of another great guitarist, "It's all too much." In a way, there is a connection between these songs -- and I hesitate to call them that since they don't really begin and end so much as start and stop -- and the work of Klaus Schulze (if you put his records on 45 rpm). The same aggressive and willful percussion, serpentine patterns, and musical conflicts appear in both, although one is designed for meditation and the other for excitation. "Jazz From Hell" is the work of a serious composer, or at the very least a seriously demented composer. It's probably too extreme for all but the most ardent acolytes of FZ, but music like this could turn out to be potable thirty years down the road.
Report this review (#29694)
Posted Tuesday, May 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is certainly a strange one, but if you have any appreciation of what Zappa was about, and want to be challenged, rather than pandered to or placated, then you will not regret purchasing this. The production is very clean and electronic sounding (all but one track are the products of FZ's notorious Synclavier), and the music comes across as a kind of electronic fireworks show, with plenty going on in the background. This is serious, challenging stuff for those with an interest in cutting edge, experimental electronic music, and in my opinion would rate in FZ's top 5 recordings made in the eighties, after Best Band You Never Heard, Them & Us, and a few others...
Report this review (#29696)
Posted Monday, March 7, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Yes this album is a masterpiece, though a sadly neglected one at that.... completeley unlike anything before or after this is Zappa writing the music he wants without the constraints of human performers. That said, it takes a few listens - but most works of real genius do. From the wacky optimism of the opening track 'Night School', to the aggressive and dark title track, Zappa pushes the envelope in every direction - remember this was '86. 'G-Spot Tornado' was the commercial track and the one that everyone latches onto but is surpassed by everything else on the album. The one live track is brilliant - St. Etienne - featuring what is basically a duet between Wackerman and Zappa (both in top form) with Steve Vai painting a sparkling background of stunt guitar. If you love Zappa's instrumental and serious side then you need to have this album - it is a hearty meal and will last you for months.
Report this review (#29697)
Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Frank Zappa created here a work probably made of 90% Synclavier. Mostly everything, bass, drums, percussions, keyboards are emulated by the Synclavier. This makes very nervous, loaded, complex and dynamic tracks. He partly started this Synclavier trend on the "Perfect stranger" and "Francesco Zappa" albums, and he enriched its bass and percussive digital elements on the "Mothers of prevention" album, which is more representative of the involved sound & style here. The sound is absolutely outstanding, and it almost sounds like MIDI files compositions!!! It may sound dissonant and repulsive for the traditional Zappa's purists, but it remains a solid complex jazzy performance. "While You Were Art II" is absolutely RESTLESS for your both ears: it consists in miscellaneous dissonant & extremely pleasant notes almost coming randomly from both channels: the strength is that everything forms an extraordinary scattered + interlocking combination of synchronized fast sets of notes, partly sounding percussive. "St.Etienne" is the only track to be recorded not using a Synclavier: a crazy paused guitar solo with some accompanying low profile music, like the "Ancient armaments" or "The drowning witch (around the fourth minute)" tracks. "Massaggio Galore" has probably the most complex repetitive sequencer I've never heard; the voices sounds on it are strange. The title for "G-spot tornado" is appropriate: some keyboards remind me a nervous & emotional breathing women! Needless to say that the album is absolutely not accessible, although it received a Grammy Award!

Rating: 4.5 stars

Report this review (#39644)
Posted Saturday, July 16, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars well, this one is one of Zappa's finest (with that many albums out, you can't just have ONE nice album...), and i won't say much about this one, except that mabe is one that will keep surprising you even after you can remember all of the songs backwards in your mind

However, the greatest thing about this album, is being the ONLY instrumental album with explicit lyrics... CONGRATULATIONS SIR ZAPPA!

Report this review (#45090)
Posted Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 'Jazz From Hell' was released in 1986. Zappa was together with Peter Gabriel and Pete Townsend among the first who bought the famous 'Synclavier', a tool permitting him to excecute his music, the way he wanted it without depending on 'the human element'. Except for one track 'Saint Etienne' the record is composed and executed by Zappa on the Synclavier. BTW 'Jazz From Hell', a totally instrumental record, got a sticker for offensive lyrics! Speaking about humour & music!

'Night School' an uptempo track with a twisted 'Zappa rhythm track' and two different piano sounds, play the 'jerky' quick melodic patterns over synth pad chords, followed by the 'The Beltway Bandits' another nervous uptempo track with a horn sound and a marimba (sound) pattern.

'While You Were Art II' a longer track with another series of impossible time signatures, a marimba pattern, beautiful alternating melody lines for clavinet, horn and bassoon (sounds).

'Jazz From Hell' is an adequate title for this track, a ragged rhythm pattern at the edge of collapsing or exploiding into the void with a horn and a flute (sound) giving it some recognizable effect : Yes this is music!

'G-Spot Tornado' a monster hitsingle with a a catchy melody over a quick marimba pattern, some woodwind sounds, one of my favourite Zappa compositions.[ even better in the the version played by the Ensemble Modern on 'Yellow shark']

'Damp Ankles ' introduced by ambient bird and water noise, a minimalistic track with several superposed rhythm patterns and a synth lead sounding like a Toy symphony.

'St. Etienne' is the only non synclavier track recored live (1984/85), a guitar solo with band, with the trademark sheet of sound guitar sound, not unlike the tracks on 'Guitar', but a little misplaced on this record.

'Massaggio Galore' an uptempo track with sampled vocals, that give an an cartoon athmosphere to the track.

A great Zappa record coming close to Zappa's personal conception of composition, but missing the 'human element' and sounding a little stiff sometimes.

Report this review (#80993)
Posted Monday, June 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars Otherwise known as: Zappa discovers the Synclavier and noodles around on it for a half hour without realizing it's recording.

..And that's just about it. The compositions on Jazz from Hell (except for one major variance) amount to a seemingly random flurry of synthesizer solos over mostly bland electronic drum beats. Sometimes the beats are just as all-over-the-place as the synth solos which makes for a completely unmemorable experience all around. And in case that wasn't enough unpredictability for you, often times odd special effects and noises will enter into the fold, only to serve no purpose at all. I can't recall any melodies from the album at all, and I just listened to it to refresh my fading memory of it! I do recall that "St. Etienne" is much more meaningful than the rest of Jazz from Hell because unlike the rest of the album, it's played by an actual band. On this song, Frank performs a guitar solo over the rhythm section's free-jazz support. It's refreshing since the rest of Jazz from Hell leaves me completely cold. I get the feeling that all of Jazz from Hell was played with a live, fluid band, I'd give it a much higher rating.

Jazz from Hell is only for those dying to complete their Zappa collections. If you're not one of these fans, don't bother.

Report this review (#85450)
Posted Wednesday, August 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Masterpiece, and ditto to the positive things mentioned on this album.

G-Spot Tornado and Night School are just so enjoyable to listen to. St.Etienne is a very nice Zappa solo. His toned down solos reflect his health at the time, and as the 80's passed he was more and more unable to play due to his weak state of prostate cancer.

Report this review (#85620)
Posted Thursday, August 3, 2006 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Of all of Frank Zappa's synclavier instrumental albums, Jazz From Hell seems to stand alone from the rest. Most of Zappa's synclavier stuff, in my opinion, is rather boring and I find it hard to enjoy when compared to his more contemporary works. But with Jazz From Hell, despite its flaws, has a charm to it that makes it different from the rest of the bunch. An odd note about this album, it is the first (and probably the only) instrumental album to merit a parental advisory warning, most likely for some of the more risque song titles. Anywho, what this album mostly is is Zappa noodling with the synclavier and utilizes a backing group to help flesh out some of the pieces.

In particular, G-Spot Tornado, the title track, and St. Entienne are the highlights of the album. The first is the most recognizable song off the album (and the only synclavier song from this album to get a live rendition, by the Ensemble Modern on the Yellow Shark album). It's teetering synclavier motifs and relentless pace really set the tone for what this album was all about, music that was nearly humanly impossible to play. The title track is a bit more off the wall, with oddly phrased notes and cascading melodies while retaining some sort of cohesion. St. Entienne is the only non-synclavier piece on the album, and it's probably my favorite. It's a classic Zappa guitar solo piece and he really belts out an unforgettable piece.

Jazz from Hell isn't the easiest album to listen to. Some may find it too cold and detached, very unlike a Zappa album, which usually are very lively affairs. However, those who can listen to music that has little potential of ever being played by a human being in terms of sheer density will probably find much to enjoy. I can't say it's near the best Zappa pieces, but it's certainly an interesting record and at the end of the day, pretty solid.

Report this review (#112066)
Posted Tuesday, February 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars As the album title implies you might expect that this will be another kind of jazz music or jazz that is played differently. All songs performed here are basically instrumental as is the case with most of jazz music. Most rhythm sections are in straight forward structure with repeated chords. Under modern world this kind of rhythm can be performed through computer programming. "Night School" is a nice instrumental which serves well as album opening. It's basically a straight forward structure with repeated chords textured by percussion effects, demonstrating keyboard as melody maker and soloist augmented with piano. One might be attracted by this track due to its good keyboard work. "The Beltway Bandits" is in a way like an avant-garde song with straight forward structure in a programmed rhythm section. As the opening track, this second track also brings keyboard as melody section. The third track "While you were at it" is much complex in nature and it explores many sound effects from keyboards augmented with percussion. It's quite challenging track. "Jazz From Hell" is almost true a jazz music with many sound improvisations and "weird" sax work. "G-spot Tornado" flows in faster tempo with much complex sound exploration on sound effects produced by keyboards. Bass guitar plays dynamically overlaid by pulsating keyboard sounds. "Damp Ankles" is a slow tempo music with repeated rhythm section accompanying keyboard solo. "St. Etienne" is probably the most accessible track with guitar as main melody. The guitar work is truly stunning backed with jazzy rhythm section. "Massaggio Galore" explores the virtuosity of bass guitar player in rhythm section that accompanies keyboard.

Overall, this album offers unique kind of music which is typical Frank Zappa's music. Do not expect something usual music offers, there are lot of improvisations offered right here. I leave it up to you whether or not to purchase the album. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#138543)
Posted Sunday, September 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This is one of my least liked Zappa albums. Composed entirely on the synclavier except for St. Etienne which is a live song ( vehicle for guitar solo) this album is really mechanic and lacks human emotion in my opinion.

The music is very technical as Zappa liked to compose when he knew he didn´t need people to play his songs. There are themes in the songs and especially on the opener Night School and G-Spot Tornado they are very recognizable, but on most of the other songs they get to be rather forgettable.

I am having a hard time reviewing this album, as I don´t like saying anything bad about my mentor Frank Zappa, but with this album I feel he did miss for once. It is a very exciting experiment though and deserves praise for that. But I think Jazz from Hell is only for collectors and I wan´t really recommend this to anyone else than Zappa completists like myself.

People into avant garde should try it out though ( you probably already have).

Report this review (#150379)
Posted Monday, November 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Synclavier: often seen as a completely mechanic, cold computer-like device that is infamous in circles surrounding Zappa's albums that featured it. It certainly is unique, and Zappa liked it for the fact that he didn't have to work with other people in his composing at the very least and also for its range of sounds and capabilities. This album actually won a Grammy back in the day for instrumental performance. Looks like they actually got something right for once.

1. Night School- Absolute brilliance. Wonderful Zappa composition with all of his usual quirks and amazing skills, except all on the Synclavier. It gives the piece an incredibly unique sound and I love it to death. I could listen to this one over and over, but maybe that's just me. 10/10

2. The Beltway Bandits- If you thought the last composition was strange, just wait until you hear this one. With even more extremely odd sounds and dissonance, Zappa certainly elucidates that this music is indeed from hell. This has a very insane/asylum feel to it, but as Zappa often manages to do, I think it works very well. The genius of his composing never ceases to amaze me, even on albums like this which are often way too overlooked. 9/10

3. While You Were Art II- Almost as long as the previous two songs combined, this is more of the Synclavier. If you thought it would go away, remember that this is Zappa and think again. This piece is not near as chaotic with constant notes as the previous two songs. Combine that with its length and the aspect of being ALL Synclavier, it is undeniably a well-composed piece. It can drag, however, especially if you're not in the mood for it. 7/10

4. Jazz from Hell- Somewhat similar in mood to the previous song, my feelings about the title track are not unlike it. It is a greatly composed piece, as usual, but it seems that Zappa's Synclavier compositions work much more efficiently when the songs are filled more to the brim with quirkiness rather than taking a step back from an onslaught of notes. Still good, but can drag, and the previous song was a BIT better for my taste. 6/10

5. G-Spot Tornado- Here we go! Things pick up right away again and this one certainly is one of the stranger songs on this album (which says ALOT). This one combines the extreme avant-garde sounds of Beltway Bandits with an even more intense atmosphere. This song is also responsible for the fact that this album is the ONLY instrumental album ever to get a parental advisory rating. Classic. 9/10

6. Damp Ankles- Back to a slower track here It is relatively short, but still almost a minute longer than the title track. You may have to be insane to like this track, much like the rest of the album, but I think it's more effective in its building minimalism than the title track was. Very dark yet still oddly humorous feel to this one. Good, but I think I would get very tired of this song if it lasted any longer. 7/10

7. St. Etienne- Ah, the only Synclavier-less track on the album! I'm sure this one is a breath of fresh air for those who are getting tired of the barrage of mechanical compositions. The placement of this track is welcomed, even for me, and I quite like the Synclavier. Listen to Zappa's guitar work on this one! Stunning and so expressive. 9/10

8. Massaggio Galore- Shortest track yet definitely not the least odd. If you don't question Zappa's insane creative madman tag by now, which you should, then you most likely will with this one. It's a good closer, but not perfect. Well-composed as always. 7/10


Get this album if: 1. You like the tag avant-garde 2. You are curious to see what a Synclaiver sounds like 3. You are insane 4. You are already well-introduced to Zappa's other more acclaimed works and are willing to take a risk on something that is still creative, typical Zappa, yet entirely new

Don't get this album if: 1. You are closed-minded 2. You cannot stand dissonance 3. You cannot stand 80s production or the sound of a Synclavier

However, if you're willing to take a plunge, this reviewer says go for it. This is definitely an excellent addition to a progger's collection. Just be prepared for wackiness!

Report this review (#188719)
Posted Monday, November 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars I can only hope that Frank Zappa meant this oddball novelty album as a parody, maybe of the self-indulgent virtuosity driving much of Prog Rock (try to play this, Mr. Wakeman!) But after learning more about the man it's clear he must have wanted it taken seriously.

The result is automated computer music from a misanthropic genius and notorious control freak, trying to compose impossibly complex music without the distraction of human involvement, typically the one thing that gives music its life. The album was created entirely by Zappa on the newest toy in his basement studio: the Synclavier, a digital sampler sold at the time as the next step in musical evolution.

Whatever else it might be, the music here sure ain't Jazz (or Rock, for that matter). All the hyperactive pre-programmed ostinatos are related instead to the dodecaphonic serialism of Varčse, Schoenberg, and the avant-garde heroes of Zappa's precocious adolescence. It's certainly a unique experience (who would expect anything less from Uncle Frank?), but the album is also unlistenable for much of its (thankfully brief) 34-minute length.

Even more frustrating is how such supposedly impossible-to-play music could in fact have been performed by several Zappa bandmates. You can't tell me that STEVE VAI or ADRIAN BELEW couldn't have mastered even the adrenalin overdose of 'G-Spot Tornado', later adapted by Ensemble Modern on Zappa's final orchestral project, 'The Yellow Shark'.

And why include on the same disc a four-year old live recording with an eight-piece band? This one track ('St. Etienne', recorded on tour in France in 1982) stands out like a happily sore thumb, undermining the promise of the Synclavier and making the balance of the album sound even more sterile than it already is.

An unreconstructed social misfit like Zappa must have had a good laugh when the album earned a Grammy Award, for (believe it or not) 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance'. I like to imagine his acerbic response: "the suckers probably don't even know the whole thing was programmed!" (...although he probably would have used another word rhyming with 'suckers').

Practical joke or sober post-modern experiment, 'Jazz From Hell' certainly deserves to be heard at least once, especially for students of such an idiosyncratic talent. Whether it's worth playing a second time is still open to debate.

Report this review (#231967)
Posted Sunday, August 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars "JAZZ FROM HELL". The title alone is enough to pique any normal record buyer's interest. So I bought it, knowing full well of the bumpy ride ahead of me. It IS FZ, y'know; so it ain't gonna be no sugar-coated pop music. Knowing that, I threw it on. I was expecting ANYTHING but what I heard.

The opening track, "Night School", opens like typical 80's synthesizer pop. But it's Frank behind the steering wheel, so expect some twists and turns. Dissonant keyboard notes intertwine and weave around a steady 4/4 drum machine groove, punctuated by what sounds like hand clapping. It's weird, impenetrable and obtuse, much like what is to follow. It also shows that, in addition to being a blistering guitar player, he's also a talented keyboardist and a challenging composer.

On to the next track. "The Beltway Bandits" has a rather serene opening, with delicate synthesizer opening onto a bizarre keyboard run, backed up by what sounds like a sampled voice and synthetic kick drums. Midway through, the synthesizer takes on a saxophone-like timbre. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to what is being played, and thus, what the listener is hearing. Again; it's a weird and out-there piece of "music". But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable, especially if you like to be challenged by the music you hear.

"While You Were Art II" is like a collage of sound, seemingly as if Zappa found a bunch of sounds on his Synclavier, thought they were cool, threw them together and called it a song. It's not, but it's extremely suggestive of such. The computerized kick drums suggest a beat, much like the pastiche of keyboard and synthesizer suggest a melody, and thus, a composition. Around the 2:29 mark of this piece, the "beat", as it were, fades out, leaving only those bizarre sounds and nothing else. At the 3:47 mark, the beat picks back up, switching up with some cool synthesized snare sounds. But it's so incredibly random; sounds come and go faster than the listener can process them. And as for making some sense of them? Forget it.

The first two seconds of the title track are remarkably pastoral (for Zappa, anyway). It all goes downhill from there, lapsing into more weird noises and synth plink-plonk. The sounds here alternate between synthesized bass, what sounds like a saxophone, and regular keyboards. In comes a synthetic kick drum, but it doesn't even suggest a beat this time, almost as if Zappa got bored with what he was doing and decided to totally tank the tune. Truth be told, it's the worst "tune" on here.

The laughably titled "G-Spot Tornado" is another 3 minute ditty, quite fast-paced, featuring a whooshing synthesizer alternating with a rapid-sounding kick drum pattern. In the background, if one listens closely enough, one can hear heavy breathing. It wouldn't surprise me if he taped some heavy breathing and moaning from a porno movie and used it for this piece. It really DOES sound like the soundtrack to a porno from hell! The melody from 0:25-0:39 is very pretty, though. But the rest of the time, the track lapses into dissonant noises and found sounds. It IS challenging though, so I gotta give him credit.

"Damp Ankles" opens with what sounds like someone taking a shower; hence the title, I think. This one has more of a steady beat, so it seems easier to follow. Again, more bizarre sounds come together over the by-now irregular kick pattern, making it more difficult to follow. And is that laughter I hear, acting as a rhythm instrument?

In addition to his abilities as a writer and producer, what a lot of people like most about Zappa is his knowledge of the six-string, and "St. Etienne" is a full-band piece showcasing his fluency. It opens with some bluesy bends and dissonant chords over a sped-up rhythm section, moving in and out of 6/8 time. Drummer Chad Wackerman and percussionist Ed Mann prove how capable they are of following Zappa's flights of fancy, taking off on a twisted groove, or laying down an off-beat pattern here and there. A gold medal must also go to bassist Scott Thunes, for not deviating from the arrangement laid down. Later on, the rhythm becomes incredibly random, as does the lead playing. And I don't hear any rhythm playing. Where, might I ask, or Steve Vai and Ray White?

The last track, "Massaggio Galore" has a bunch of found sounds and voices over another random-sounding beat, if you can call it that. It's noisy, dense and just freaky.

I'm fairly new to FZ, only having a few of his records, and enjoying them, even though I know just how much he likes to screw with perceptions. This disc sounds claustrophobic, noisy and (mostly) tuneless, except for parts here and there. Having said that, I'm gonna go ahead and give it four stars. It's not a masterpiece, but the idea of a masterpiece is subjective anyway. 'Sides; we can't all be right...can we?

Report this review (#232067)
Posted Sunday, August 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I agree-it is not very usual FZ album. But - if you are starting to listen FZ, do you expecting to hear some usual things?

For the beginning I want to say, that when I listened this album first time ( many years ago), I was shocked, hypnotised and ... renew my interest to real jazz once again.

Yes, it's different, but is it really so different? I believe, that readers of "Cosmopolitan"magazine will accept it with big difficulties, but why this album is so strange for PA readers? There for sure are many more strange and difficult-to-accept albums on this site!

As for me, I think we should be happy, that someone produced something, that is little bit different from what you are waiting to hear. I am really very happy with it, because I honestly think, that we always need a fresh air between myriads of classical sweet-boring sympho-rock albums you heavily could listen till the song 3...

Very recommended to listeners with hot hearts, fresh heads and interest for real prog music, no old boring cliches.

Report this review (#234994)
Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Frank Zappa found the perfect band to play his difficult compositions. It's called his Synclavier.

Don't let the fact that this album woke the Grammy voters from their self congratulatory stupor long enough to give Zappa the award for best instrumental album, This is not the mainstream pap that usually gets lauded by "The Academy". This is very complex, and very entertaining, and completely impossible to categorize music. Zappa calls it "Jazz From Hell", but there is no improvisation it it. I would probably say that it is closer to classical than anything else, but even that doesn't say much.

Frank's personality is all over the music. The odd timing, chord structure, and even some of his guitar phrasing come through in the pieces.

The one oddball is St. Etienne, a guitar solo taken from one of his live concerts. Honestly, I would have rather had more Synclavier.

Report this review (#388809)
Posted Friday, January 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars This has to be one of the most misleading album titles ever. With the title Jazz From Hell, and a listed lineup with many of the same people as on albums like Them or Us, you'd expect a lot of noisy jazz fusion. Instead, only one track, "St. Etienne," features the live lineup listed in the liner notes. It's a nice instrumental bit taken from a 1982 performance (of "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch"), and Zappa's expressive guitar playing has mood and atmosphere to spare. The other instrumentalists don't do much outside of a pure supporting role, and the track feels like it would have just gotten thrown into the Guitar release had it not been put here, but it's a real treat.

The rest of the album, somewhat shockingly, is all Synclavier compositions, showing Zappa's greatest committment to the instrument yet. Seven tracks of this strikes me as a little monotonous, and I don't find all of them that entertaining, but there are some tracks on here that I like a lot. In particular, I'm fond of "G-Spot Tornado," where the main "melody" line is just so wild and bizarre, and the synthetic bass and percussion work so well with it, that I can't help but see it as one of Zappa's best instrumentals. I'm also rather fond of the opening "Night School," which has some elements of 80's adult pop, but which also has some very screwy melody ideas that sound like quintessential Zappa. The title track sounds like a dark synthetic version of a 1970-era instrumental, and the closing "Massagio Galore" is just so awkward and bizarre that it ends up with a lot of power.

The other three tracks don't interest me a lot (one of them, "While You Were Art II," is apparently a transcription of an old Shut Up N' Play Yer Guitar track, but at 7 minutes even that novelty doesn't keep my interest forever), but they're ok. They kinda sound to me like outtakes from the Mothers of Prevention sessions, though I could be all wet on that. Anyway, if you're allergic to the Synclavier, you'll obviously want to avoid this, but it's a worthwhile purchase otherwise.

Report this review (#412472)
Posted Monday, March 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars This entire album is instrumental and (except for one track) all done on the synclavier. Out of all the clinically sounding synclavier albums, this one is one of the best ones, but personally I would rather hear an orchestra or one of Zappa's bands try to perform the songs, because the tracks are near impossible for a human to perform them, though many have tried. This is why Zappa used the synclavier, because the notes could be processed into whatever he wanted and put into a computer. Thus, the computer is the instrument on most of the tracks here.

Now, contrary to those who are unenlightened, these compositions are not just noodling or random goofing off on the computer, these are actual written compositions. They are quite brilliant and in the realm of classical/jazz/rock fusion. But the synclavier can be quite clinical sounding, and it makes the performances not very dynamic and very same-y sounding. However, the tracks are all unique.

"Night School" is the one of the better synclavier pieces in that it is programmed to have the piano sound as the main "instrument" and since the synclavier is related to keyboards, it is very realistic sounding. This is a very nice piece and not as complicated sounding as the other tracks here. It starts the album off in a nice way. This track is named after a late night TV show that Frank was asked to host on a nightly basis. It was to take the place of the Joan Rivers show. Frank even had guests lined up and a regular band that would play and also claimed that one of the topics he was going to discuss why it was okay to show a native female human's breast on TV but not okay to show a Caucasian breast. Yep, this was Frank. But it also sounds like he had some very serious issues and guests to discuss also. Anyway, I have no idea if this track is taken from the theme song or not.

"The Beltway Bandits" is a rather chaotic piece that is all over the board and sounds like a traffic jam. "While You Were Art II" is transcribed from a guitar solo that is featured on the "Shut Up and Play Your Guitar" collection called "While You Were Out" that was transcribed by Steve Vai for guitar. Frank took that transcription and adapted it for orchestra when it was requested by a conductor. He made a few changes and mixed up the melody so that it jumped around to different instruments. The conductor took a look at the finished manuscript and said that they wouldn't be able to learn it. So Frank suggested they put the music into the computer and let it play the song for them while the orchestra faked it. Believe it or not, they did it. Frank was quite amused that the music critics didn't even realize that it was a computer playing it, and they never knew until a few of the orchestra members decided to apologize. Frank's last laugh for this one was to give it the name he did after the conductor whose name was Arthur. The "II" in the title is because this version played here is not exactly the same as what he transcribed and programmed for the orchestra, it has a few changes. In any event, it is another chaotic piece with so many meter changes it just as well be written in free meter. However, it does have some variance at least during it's 7 minute run time, there is a calmer middle section where the percussion sounds quit for a while and then return later.

"Jazz From Hell" is a little more interesting where it has some jazz harmonies and aspects and it also contains some realistic brass sounds for a short time. This one has more structure than the previous two. "G-Spot Tornado" is the most interesting of the synclavier tracks and it's one that I actually enjoy because it sounds like it's supposed to be electronic. It doesn't try to imitate another instrument, at least the main melody. It is quite a complicated piece nevertheless, and is one that Frank specifically points out as being humanly impossible to play. The next track is "Damp Ankles" and is named after some youth group leader that made his kids lick his ankles in order to pay homage to him. Weird. The track doesn't really stand out much among the other tracks though.

"St. Etienne" is the only track on the album that involves the band in a concert setting, and is the guitar solo from the song "Downing Witch" recorded at the place that the track is titled after in France in May of 1982. It is quite a nice break from the similar sounding tracks from before and a decent enough guitar solo from Zappa. I think it was added here to fill in time however since it is a completely different source. The last track is the short "Massagio Galore" which ends the album in the usual synclavier mode. This is very sarcastic sounding, so I'm sure there is a story behind it, but I'm not sure what it is.

Anyway, not a bad album considering it is rather clinical sounding. It got great reviews, and considering the compositions and the genius of FZ, I can understand it, but, like I said, I would rather hear an orchestra or band try to attempt it, even if they massacre it than listen to the flat and fake sound of the computer. It gets high marks simply for the genius of the composition, not necessarily the performance or sound of the computer here. I would rather hear these tracks intermingled with more traditional instrument pieces for variety, one of these on this album isn't enough to carry it. 3 stars, but those stars are all because of the greatness of the music, not the sound. Yeah you can call me a purist if you want, but there it is.

Report this review (#1431700)
Posted Sunday, June 28, 2015 | Review Permalink
2 stars Frank, honey, what's got into ya?: 4/10

JAZZ FROM HELL is an oddball even for Frank Zappa. I'm not saying it sounds objectively strange - heck, that's Zappa's biggest quality -, but instead improper to the man's discography. You see, even Zappa's most maddened, insane compositions and releases were inspired and meaningful. Even his experimental rehearsals and templates or his most apparently nonsensical works (like the excerpts of the Uncle Meat movie). Sure, they're hard to digest, but it's clear they have a soul and a purpose. That's where JAZZ FROM HELL differs. Honestly, the album feels like it exists... because it does.

Of course, the concept behind creating music solemnly with that proto-computer is newsworthy, but when I say his Synclavier sounds mechanic and soulless, I'm referring to the apparent indifference Zappa demonstrates with this record, through his forgettable and uninspired tracks. Musically, JAZZ FROM HELL gets weary quickly. There's a shock value & hype of discovering this is a Synclavier album, but it rapidly exhausts. The unvaried Synclavier focus again and again eventually ends up feeling absolutely insipid. There's a cool, refreshing guitar solo, St. Etienne, but that's about it. Also, something regarding the aforementioned track bugs me. It's not like Zappa has ever cared for releasing albums with some sort of connection between the songs, but placing a live guitar solo within a sea of Synclavier tracks just depicts that blatant disregard with the album.

Honestly, I don't think Zappa cared about JAZZ FROM HELL. It was released four years after he began working with the Synclavier and so his abilities with it are pretty ripe (he even got a Grammy), but for as much time it is useful to develop your skills, it is also efficient on killing your creativity. That must have been it: after so long, Zappa had no creative mojo left. So, uninspired, he came with this.

Well, I'd be really disappointed if I had spent my money on this. If this is Zappa's state-of-art Synclavier music, that's just underwhelming. One could easily put on YouTube "G-Spot Tornado" and with brevity understand what Zappa took 34 minutes to express. In fact, I think that's what you should do.

Report this review (#1741797)
Posted Saturday, July 8, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars Review #163

It finally happened: Frank ZAPPA recorded a SOLO album, no other musician played a single instrument in here (except for a song that was recorded alive), it is only ZAPPA and his Synclavier making music that sounds like a video game soundtrack. Being called "Jazz from hell" one could expect a little Jazz on this record but there is absolutely not. This was Frank ZAPPA last studio album (unless we consider the volume two of "London Symphony Orchestra" that was recorded in 1983); at this point of his career, he choose a very original way to close it: making an album that was not at all similar to any of his previous, just as he used to do every once in a while.

The album is quite relaxing and easy to enjoy, but definitely not one of the best albums of ZAPPA; however, it is nothing of a bad album, and, being as unique as it is, it is an obligated stop to any ZAPPA fan.

Report this review (#2649501)
Posted Saturday, December 4, 2021 | Review Permalink

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