Great Zappa As Usual
By Luis Feliu
ZAPPA IN NEW YORK, Frank Zappa, Discreet Records, distributed by WEA.
ZAPPA could have found room on six albums and I still think the best of this double live set could have been put neatly into a one-album package.
What the heck, this doesn't even scratch the surface of the ideas Mr self-indulgence has up his sleeves.
And what's the idea of cutting 11 and 13 minute sides to a potential 45-minute disc, Francis Vincent?
Well, aside from that minor disappointment, there is at least an album's worth of usually-great Zappa listening for Zappa folk.
However, I yearn for the same pleasure derived from a good spout of those gems like 'Apostrophe', 'Overnight Sensation', 'One Size Fits All', 'Bongo Fury', 'Live at the Roxy' or the post 'Hot Rats' period. The dense structures and overlapping layers of sound, acid-tongue Zappa's lyrics, and scorching solos from the instrumentalists are all on this one, too. As usual, it takes a little while to absorb it all before that familiar lure sets in.
The album was recorded in New York late in 1976 from a series of concerts to "a cozy group of 27,500 deranged fanatics in New York City", as FZ put it. His orchestral cast this time in consisted of: top horn session men Randy and Mike Brecker, with Ray White on rhythm guitar and vocals, Eddie Jobson on keyboards, violin and vocals, Patrick O'Hearn on bass and vocals, Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals – the latter few who were with him on his most recent album 'Zoot Allures'. Let's see, Ruth Underwood on percussion and synthesiser, David Samuels on timpani, Lou Marini on flute and alto sax, Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax and clarinet, Tom Malone on trombone, trumpet and piccolo and a "sophisticated narrator", Don Pardo, whose seemingly only contribution is on the dialogue in the intro to 'The Illinois Enema Bandit', a 12 minute blues-like story based, apparently, on a true story of a man who terrorised female students at an Illinois University.
Zappa does the conducting as usual, and the lead guitar work, his style, incidentally is becoming even more stylistic.
Ray White handles the vocals on the 'Enema Bandit' as good as say George Duke or Napoleon Murphy Brock. Another deranged story, 'Titties and Beer', would probably be better live just for the choreography. A "sensitive instrumental ballad for late-nite listening" follows that first track on side one, followed by a short piece Zappa performed over 10 years ago, 'Big Leg Emma'.
One of my favourite cuts on this set kicks off side two, a rearranged, tight three-minute version of 'Sofa', originally on 'One Size Fits All' and sees Zappa and his orchestra peaking – great stuff. A very brief (one minute and a half) arrangement, 'Manx Needs Women' an exercise originally published in Guitar Player magazine follows that and then a superb drum solo from Bozzio in the 'Black Page Drum Solo/Black Page 1 and Black Page 2'.
His casual tom-foolery or wizardry with the technical aspects of musical arranging is made obvious in. these two pieces.
Other excellent tracks are 'Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?' and 'Purple Lagoon', which takes up the whole of the last side, a piece which naturally allows a lot of breathing and improvising space for Mike Brecker on tenor, sax and an overdubbed guitar solo from FZ.
On the whole, good value for us Zappa freaks, I mean, fans. But another good studio album would be even more eagerly awaited.
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