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Frank Zappa - Jazz from Hell CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.43 | 254 ratings

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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.
daveconn | 3/5 |


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