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Frank Zappa - Dance Me This CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.94 | 82 ratings

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4 stars One of the most diverse discographies out there is the one that was produced by Frank Zappa. I don't think any other artist out there could write r&b music one day, lead a jazz ensemble another day, write a comedic satire the next, play a rousing guitar solo later that night, produce a rock record, and write ballets and contemporary classical music a few minutes later. Is it any wonder that with an artist can have so many fans with differing opinions and preferences can bring them all together, at least the true fans? Zappa amazes me the way he could change from one extreme to another without even batting an eye, and he could do it all so well. That is the thing that amazes me most about him.

The last album that Zappa completed before his untimely death in 1993 was 'Dance Me This'. However, it was several years later, in 2015, that it was finally officially released by The Zappa Family Trust. Many fans knew about this album and that it was his last long before it was releases, and I think most of them knew that it was a synclavier album, as that was his instrument of choice in his latter years, because he felt he could manipulate the sounds the way he wanted to and in ways that were proven to be difficult for most human musicians to play organically. That is why several of the tracks on 'Dance Me This' were actually older tracks that he had composed years before, but never felt comfortable enough about their performances to release them on an album. Or they were just unfinished and the synclavier made it possible for him to finish them the was he wanted. Anyway, his last completed album was this one.

Those that are familiar with Zappa's music know that a lot of his music is very complex and challenging. Tricky meters, contrasting lines, odd performance demands and so on made them hard to play and perform. Those interested in Dance Me This should know this up front because these tracks are quite tricky. There is no locker room humor here, all of the humor is musically based, and will slide right by most listeners, myself included. But, I think most people can appreciate how genius the work is, whether they find it hard to listen to or not.

Zappa is the main performer on this album, playing the synclavier. The only other performers are 3 Tuvan throat singers. Zappa was very intrigued with their vocal style. The Tuvans are a group of nomadic Asians that live in southern Siberia who are known for being able to sing two notes at once. Zappa invited them to his house and included them in some of the tracks on this album. Their names were Anatoli Kuular, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, and Kongar-of Ondar. Todd Yvenga is also credited on the album for algorithm and synclavier asistancy. Mats Oberg also play keyboards on the album but is uncredited.

The album starts with 'Dance Me This' which features the throat singers and a nice jazzy instrumental performance, all done on the synclavier. By now, this instrument sounds like a full band, not a cheap sound like previously. This is the only track with a guitar solo in the middle, and it is reportedly the last time Zappa would pick up a guitar, or at least the last time it was recorded. Dweezil just happened to have recording equipement set up when Frank picked up the guitar and recorded it, and then overlayed it onto the track. The track is short and quite accessible compared to most of the other tracks on here. 'Panchuco Gavotte' is the next track, and is quite evident now that the music is all from the synclavier. The beat is a tricky, yet almost reggae style beat, but it sounds as if several different meters are at play here among the instruments.

The next five tracks are actually parts of a cohesive work called 'Wolf Harbor'. This track was part of a vision of Franks for a staged presentation made for modern dance. It is inspired by an actual place called Wolf Harbor located in the Mississippi. The section of Wolf River that flows here became a slackwater harbor which separates Mud Island from the Memphis mainland. Because of a man made diversion, the riverbed was lowered and the wetland was basically ruined. By 1970, pollution and sewage was so bad in the river, causing a group of scientists to call the river around Memphis 'dead'. In the performance of 'Wolf Harbor', Frank envisioned groups of dancers standing side by side holding long rolled out lengths of black trash bags and wave them to signify the dark and muddy waters of the sludgy harbor.

The music in the 'Wolf Harbor' suite is dark and ominous, just as you would imagine the river. The instrumental and percussion that is so complex in these tracks are all done with the synclavier, though it sounds quite realistic. The music is what you expect when you think of the complex classical music of Zappa, very avant-garde and strange to most ears. It's definitely not accessible by any means, but I find it very intriguing, and the sound on this album is some of the best of any of Zappa's synclavier albums. What may seem to most as random percussive noises and occasional musical tones are actually carefully composed sounds put together to produce a fascinating work of art. Zappa's Varese influences are quite obvious in this work. While the first movement is more 'musical' as far as tones go, the 2nd part is much more percussive using what seems like an unlimited amount of percussive effects. Part 3 goes back to tonal sounds and also increases the use of sound effects, mostly watery effects and occasional twangy sting plucking and bowing. There's more percussion and bass in Part 4 with a more minimal feel, but in Part 5, the percussion comes in small, rapid fire doses with a drone that ebbs and flows around it all.

In 'Goat Polo', Zappa uses the vocals of the Tuvan singers by taking their tones and manipulating them into a tune of sorts. It is named after an actual sport where goat carcasses are used to score goals while the players ride horses. The music is a bit more coherent and melodic, but it is by no means more accessible. 'Rykoniki' uses fast moving notes to create a melody with strange intervals. 'Piano' is a longer track using the synclavier to mimic a piano. Again the music is avant-garde, so there is no traditional melody, but the twinkling piano notes give a nice break to the otherwise heavy avant tracks. Utilizing 20th Century modal systems like 12 tone scales, FZ constructed an impressive and pensive piece. 'Calculus' is the closer for the album. It features Todd Yvega doing a demo of tempo mapping by using the Tuvan throat singers in an a cappella performance, then creating a new piece. Todd used a simple rhythm track with bass and algorithmically assisted violin pizzicato for Frank to use as a demo, hoping that he would used one of his own more complex synclavier pieces. However, the next day when Frank played the demo, he liked it so much that he used the demo. It's really quite a cool sounding track, taking the vocals that don't use rhythm and adjusting it all according to the implied rhythm of the original source material and making it actually somewhat accessible.

Frank's last album is a testament to his genius vision, and shows his real musicianship. The album is his best synclavier album as it was seeming that he was getting to be quite adept at using it. Of course, it would always be wonderful to hear how it would all sound if played by organic instruments, but I think this is one case, since it is Zappa's last complete album, where maybe it's best to leave it the way it is. That is how he wanted the public to hear it.

TCat | 4/5 |


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