Frank Zappa: Zoot Allures

By Russell Shaw

Modern Recording, February/March 1977

FRANK ZAPPA: Zoot Allures. [Frank Zappa, producer; Michael Braunstein and Davey Moire, engineers; recorded at the Record Plant, L.A., Ca., except for "Black Napkins," "Live" in Osaka, Japan.] Warner Brothers BS 2970.

Performance: Definitively irreverent
Recording: Captures the essence

It is good to hear Mr. Zappa playing music again. Not that there hasn't been and will always be a market for Frank's gauche barbs on society's foibles, but those efforts which accentuated his satirical wit rather than his considerable musical virtuosity left one with the inescapable feeling that the performer was goofing off.

Zappa's best work, however, has always been the symbiotic interweaving of sarcasm with instrumental finesse. This record is most assuredly a workable merging of Zappa's two main strengths – socio-literary and definitely individualistic philosophy of arranging. The result is a package of high quality.

Zappa's acid pen spares us no mercy throughout. On various cuts, we are treated to encyclicals describing the advantages of those $69.95 mechanical love dolls, told how to stimulate a woman to ecstasy, treated to a view of shallow values prevalent among the disco culture, and given a looksee into the world of a barfing wino. Meanwhile, the lighthearted and often zany combination of instruments produce enough minor chords and truncated rhythms to add the required input of tonal goof to the verbal inanities.

Despite the frequent prevalence of funnier numbers, listeners are fortunate in having here two tracks which are vintage Frank Zappa, guitar player. The most representative of these is without doubt "Black Napkins," a bluesy number recorded "live" in Osaka, Japan about a year ago. Frank's ride, a string-bending cruise up the frets, is captured with fidelity, and with the absence of post-track applause, could pass as a studio cut.

The other material, recorded at the Record Plant, is virtually flawless. As with most Zappa epics, the narrative is occasionally undermixed, and tinker-toy gimmicks, such as the Mickey Mouse-sounding vocal, rear their head. Yet before such antics are attacked as juvenile, one must consider the source – the zany Mr. Zappa.