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Frank Zappa - Jazz from Hell CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.43 | 276 ratings

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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.

TCat | 3/5 |


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