"Waka-Jawaka" Zappa's Best Yet

By Bob Wiggins

The Crimson White, July 17, 1972

Zappa has finally returned to the fertile jazz based ground he opened up way back in 1968 with Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Uncle Meat, and Hot Rats. It's been a long wait. His reconstituted Mothers have been floundering about with nothing new to say for three years. Mostly they've been trying to take up the void in vulgarity left by the demise of the Fugs. Many thought that whatever sparks of genius which came flashing through Zappa's 68-69 work had long since burned themselves out. Waka-Jawaka refutes that.

The approach to me music is largely the same as with Hot Rats and Chunga's Revenge. He lays down a predictable but raunchy rhythm line and then adds a wealth of sounds from a variety of instruments. Again like his early work his most provocative lines come in the introduction to each piece. "Big Swifty" opens up with traces of "Peaches En Regalia," and "Son of Mr. Green Genes" for Hot Rats. He synthesizes a very worked out melody with a cacophony of other sounds before he settles down into the central motif and begins to work through every facet of it.

He moves through varied moods and fantasies on his way to one of the best pieces he's ever constructed. "Big Swifty" runs for 17 minutes and is filled mainly with interplay between Zappa's guitar and Sal Marquez's canned trumpet; much like the exchanges between Zappa and Sugar Cane Harris' electric violin in Hot Rats. The music on the two is similar but the change from violin to trumpet gives Waka-Jawaka a "cooler" sound. Harris and Ponty's screeching strings gave Hot Rats a "hot" sound (remember McLuhan's terms).

Still one of the most interesting aspects of Zappa's work is his unique use of percussion. Airto Moreira's percussion in Miles Davis' work is used mainly as accents and embellishments on a theme which could run on without it if necessary. Percussion in Zappa's work however is weaved into the texture of the sound such that it would break down if the percussion were removed.

Side two has three selections; two of them with vocals very close to those on Chunga's Revenge. Zappa, like Van Dyke Parks, is one of the few people who can catch the flavor and the mood of late 40's pop music within a more recent musical setting. "Your Mouth" and "It Just Might Be A One Shot Deal" do just that. High harmonies with very little modulation and a big band canned background Muzak accompaniment set the mood but certainly do not define the sound. Zappa punctuates the entire thing with his own peculiar concept of percussion and rhythm. The lyrics of course are straight from Zappa's own mad sociology.

The other long cut is an 11 minute "Waka-Jawaka." This piece is different from anything Zappa has done before. Like "Big Swifty," the change to a trumpet-guitar lead "cools out" the sound from what was used in Hot Rats and Chunga's Revenge. This is not the only change. He uses more of an orchestral approach to the entire cut. His earlier work and "Big Swifty," was never too far removed from the head arrangements – solos in sequence – reprise format standardized during Jazz's bop era. "Waka-Jawaka" however moves away from this and uses the "layer upon layer" sound of the 40's big orchestras. Duke Ellington comes to mind more than Charlie Parker. It's excellent and ranks with Zappa's best.

For all of you who have been turned off of the mothers music for the past three years rejoice – Zappa has returned some penchant of musical sanity. With the exception of Hot Rats, Zappa has never done anything better.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net