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Frank Zappa - Zappa In New York CD (album) cover

ZAPPA IN NEW YORK

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.24 | 257 ratings

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TCat
5 stars Through editing and overdubbing, Frank Zappa managed to put together the best performances from a series of concerts recorded at The Palladium in New York City on December 26-29, 1976 (with a few overdubs recorded around April of 1977). The band at the time was one of the best line- ups in his history with Ray White helping on lead vocals, Eddie Jobson from Roxy Music on Keys, Patrick O'Hearn on bass, Terry Bozzio on drums, and the amazing Ruth Underwood on percussion and 'various humanly impossible overdubs'. Along with that they were joined by a good part of the Saturday Night Live band which included Don Pardo doing 'sophisticated narration'. The result was an amazing and talented back up band with a lot of comedy, jazz fusion and just plain fun. This album captures what it was like to attend a FZ show and is a great representation of his music and his concerts.

It starts out with one of the best examples of the classic FZ routine/tune 'Titties and Beer'. This track is based on one of Frank's favorite composers pieces'Stravinsky's 'L'histoire du Soldat' which is a the classic story of man meets the devil. Frank doesn't satarize it as much as he pays homage to it and updates it so that maybe his listeners will sit up and take notice or maybe investigate some of the classics on their own. It does give the song more meaning when you know the story behind the Stravinsky work. This is more of a routine with music that pushes the story forward quite well. Next comes a long instrumental based one of Zappa's older vocal songs called 'Crusin' for Burgers. In this version, the song is used more for soloing with the instruments playing the main theme at the beginning and the end. Next is a shorter instrumental with Zappa's entire band playing 'I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth' Where did this title come from? Apparently Zappa felt the jazzy sound of this song was something that could be played on the Muzak system (you know, mall and elevator music), so he figured with this title, that it would never happen. The versions on the vinyl and the CD are not completely the same.

Next is 'Punky's Whips' which is not available on the vinyl copy unless you can get one of the rare copies that were recalled. This is a routine based on Terry Bozzio's comment made about the drummer from a hair-glam band called Angel. Of course, FZ took TB's comment and blew it into comedic proportions and made this 10 minute track out of it. Again this is a routine backed up by a complex instrumental back up. There is a guitar solo in the middle of it too. The reason why the original vinyl was pulled was because Warner Brothers were afraid they would get sued by Angel, but FZ had already got permission from the Angel's drummer to use the song. WB pulled the album without Frank's consent. The song was restored to the CD version which was released later. Next is a not-so-great rendition of the much-used 'Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?' which doesn't have anything spectacular about it. Following that is the song based on actual events that FZ heard about on the radio and probably one of the best versions of the blues based song 'The Legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit' with Ray White putting in a surprising amount of feeling while singing the story. This ends disc 1.

Disc 2 starts off with several shorter tracks. First is 'I'm the Slime' sung by FZ and Don Pardo. Very funny over acting by Pardo on this one. After that we get into some very excellent short instrumentals that are quite impressive considering the fact that most musicians cannot play these without proper instruction. 'Pound for a Brown' is a great fusion rendition of the popular FZ classic. 'Manx Needs Women' is a very short complex composition that flows into the 'Black Page Drum Solo' which is sequed into the full band version of 'Black Page #1'. The story behind 'Black Page' is that FZ wanted to take the original drum solo and turn it into a full band piece, so he made up a melody and replaced the percussion with instrumental notes for a full band. The finished score had so many notes on it that it was like a black page filled with notes. Hence, the name. Apparently, Ruth Underwood, having a music degree, broke down the score and taught the other band members how to play it all broken down into bits before anyone was able to play it at all. I still listen to this and wonder how in the world can anyone do this live. Quite an amazing feat.

After this, the band gets to rest a bit for the rock song 'Big Leg Emma' and then after that, the 'Sofa' theme gets the SNL Band treatment and it sounds good and much like music you would hear on SNL. Now, FZ has the band play another version of 'Black Page' after he explains the difference between the hard version and the easy version. The easy version (this one) slows down the melody and puts a disco vamp underneath it. It's still amazing, and now you get to hear it slowed down and it's still complex, but now you can hear just how complex it is.

After this, comes the classic 'The Torture Never Stops' without all the screamaing and hollering noises on this version, which is over 12 minutes long. The guitar solo (not sure if it's dubbed in or not, but I don't think it is) is really great in this version, doesn't seem as dark as usual, but is a nicer sound. The SNL Band help to liven it up too, especially on some of the hooks that are usually played by guitar in the vocal sections. Then you get two complex pieces meshed together in the 16 minute track 'The Purple Lagoon/Approximate'. The breakdown is like this: the first 17 seconds is an intro, from .17 to .37 is the Purple Lagoon theme, from .37 to 1.17 is the Approximate theme, from 1.17 to 15.23 are several amazing solos based around 'Pound for a Brown' on this version, from 15.23 ' 15.55 is a return to the Purple Lagoon theme with variations, then from 15.55 to 16.40 is the outro with crowd noises. I can't tell you much about The Purple Lagoon theme other than it is another complex theme, but 'Approxiamate' is usually done as the bookends with solos in the middle. The 'Approxiamte' theme is comprised of several scores written for different classes of instruments and instead of specific notes, the players are allowed to pick whatever notes they want in a specified range of notes. The theme is never ever performed the same way. As far as the solo section, you get a lot of brass, some guitar, percussion, keyboard and a trombone solo played through a harmonizer, which was a new gadget at the time. The interesting thing is the harmonizer is programmed in this instance to give a very dissonant interval throughout the solo making for a very unique sound.

So that's FZ in New York in a nutshell, at least the CD version. The vinyl version does not have all of the tracks as the CD version and some of the tracks vary in certain degrees. I have both versions and both are great. I highly recommend this one as a great example of FZ humor and amazing musicianship and composing talents. This also highlights the amazing lineup of the time. I consider this an essential addition to your FZ library as it shows why he is considered an avant garde composer and it proves that you can be entertaining and cultured at the same time. A warning though, this one is not for those with tender ears as it is quite explicit during the comedy routines. But, if you are not offended or 'deafened' because of whatever outside forces that are in your life, then you are really in for an excellent listening experience here and you can listen for yourself why FZ is a man that deserves to be respected in the music community. 5 stars.

TCat | 5/5 |

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