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Frank Zappa - Waka / Jawaka CD (album) cover

WAKA / JAWAKA

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.93 | 498 ratings

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TCat
5 stars 'Waka/Jawaka', otherwise known as 'Another Hot Rats' album, is FZ's 4th solo album. It is comprised of 4 tracks, 2 are instrumental and 2 have vocals. It is a good example of FZ's jazz leanings and is one of my favorite FZ albums. Being that it was released along with other FZ jazz albums, it is considered the prelude to The Grand Wazoo line-up. Don't expect a lot of humor in this album, it is jazz oriented.

It starts out with the 17 minute jazz instrumental 'Big Swifty', which has it's distinctive theme bookending several improvised solos. On this studio version, it starts off with the theme that has alternates between several different time signatures, 7 / 8 then 6 / 8, with a 4 / 4 melody. It's not a very long theme, before we get into a keyboard solo, then a muted trumpet and guitar begin fighting it out with the keyboard, while the tricky meters continue in the background. The band featured here was by all means an improvisation band including Aynsley Dunbar on the drums who played with many greats like Jeff Beck, David Bowie, John Mayall and others (and who later left the band because Zappa had gotten to where he was writing every part and not allowing for enough improv, or at least that's what he claimed), Tony Duran on slide guitar who had played in Zappa's bands like the Mothers and Ruben and the Jets previously, George Duke on keys who everyone knows is a Funk Master and also played with Cannonball Adderly, Sal Marquez on trumpet who went on to play for Joe Sample and both Don and Dave Grusin, Alex Dmochowski (Erroneous) on Bass who was with Zappa on The Mothers albums and also played with John Mayall and FZ on guitar and percussion. If you are not into jazz improvisation, then you probably won't understand what is going on here, which is why so many people didn't understand what FZ was doing at the time. This takes up an entire side of the album.

Side two starts out with what is a satirical song titled 'Your Mouth'. It features Kris Petersen's only appearance with Zappa on vocals except for a passage in 'Waka/Jawaka' where she sings along with the horns, and it is very difficult to hear, in addition to the previous line up and also Joel Peskin on tenor sax and Mike Altschul on baritone sax and piccolo. Quite a line up for a song that only lasts a little over 3 minutes. It is, however, a straightforward, yet loaded blues/jazz number with several uncredited background singers on the choruses.

'It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal' is supposedly a song about hallucinations. It is one of the most surprising and interesting FZ songs out there in that it guests Jeff Simmons playing a Hawaiian guitar and doing vocals and 'Sneaky Pete' Kleinow, who has in bands for Jackson Browne and many others doing a crazy-awesome pedal steel guitar solo. It also features Janet Ferguson on vocals who worked with Frank on 'Burnt Weeny Sandwich'. This song has a country-lilt to it which makes it unique in FZ's repertoire. But just before it goes into that amazing pedal steel guitar solo, there is a very strange passage that sounds like it was spliced into the song, but it was in actuality recorded in real time, and it is a very strange meter that was very difficult for the musicians to finally get right. Many complained that it was impossible to play, but Frank insisted that if he could play it, then it was possible. They finally got it right and kept the result as the final product. Then, there's another strange passage again after the solo. This is a FZ song that has to be heard to be believed because of its uniqueness more than anything. This song always reminds me why I love FZ's music so much.

The last track, at over 11 minutes is the title track 'Waka/Jawaka'. This is another mostly improvised jazz instrumental. This one features a more melodic theme that is a lot easier to pick out, and is a more standard meter. Where 'Big Swifty' featured combined soloing and improvisation, this one is more soloing of one instrument at a time. This features Don Preston on the keyboards and mini Moog. The few vocals in this track are wordless and follow the trumpet in its solo starting at 6:32. This section must have been written out since the vocalists could sing right along with the trumpet. You get a horn solo, keyboard, then guitar, then trumpet, a short return to the theme, a drum solo and back to the theme again. After that, there is a variation to the theme, which is a very tricky passage where horns and flute play together.

This is an amazing album that serves as a testament to FZs skill as musician and band leader. It sits up there with some of the best jazz albums of its kind and signals what would be coming up in FZ's discography. This is an essential FZ album and all serious fans of Zappa should have and be familiar with it. It is also one of the true tests of who FZ's fans really are. Highly recommended, especially for progressive jazz lovers.

TCat | 5/5 |

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