Zoot Allures: Unadulterated Zappa

By Alex Lippisch

Reporter, December, 1976

In the early 1960’s a musician slowly emerged through the underground, in the midst of the British rock invasion of the country. A native of southern California, Frank Zappa has existed for years but has changed very little.

Zoot Allures, however is unique among Zappa efforts, in that in his latest album Zappa plays all guitars, basses and keyboards, with the exception of the title track which features Dave Parlato on bass and the song Black Napkins, which was recorded live.

The originator of the Mothers of Invention, Zappa brought together a relatively unknown group of California musicians to form his band. Ever since their conception, the Mothers have undergone frequent personnel changes, but throughout the years, Zappa has remained the dominant mainstay. With few exceptions, he was composed and produced all the Mother’s material both past and present. Zappa and the Mothers progressed and refined themselves from within, with very little external influence.

When George Duke did the keyboard work, the overall sound of the Mothers was to some degree influenced by his style. Every different personal style of the members influenced the final sound. With Zappa now playing everything (except percussion), he has constructed a sound purely his own. Zoot Allures seems to be the first album of uninfluenced Zappa.

Zappa has recorded this album with few studio musicians. The only other person who performed on all tracks is his most recent drummer, Terry Bozzio. The remaining people were used almost exclusively for background vocals, and occasional additions of synthesizer, marimba, and harp.

Zoot Allures is very simple and, at times, mellow. The complicated timing of Zappa’s past work is not as prevalent this time. Zappa seems to have decided that if he is to play everything, he will keep the structure of the tunes elemental, to remain in control.

Commercial pressures have had little influence on Zappa’s progress in the past. His indifference towards the commercial world has remained one of his earmarks. However, fans of early Zappa now criticize his recent albums heavily for being too commercial.

The more recent albums have increased Zappa’s popularity to a large extent and were much more successful than his earlier works, prior to Over Nite Sensation. Zoot Allures represents a new direction for Zappa. It dissolves any suspicion that he is riding his founded wave of success without progressing.

The album also marks a departure from the characteristically absurd lyrical themes which greatly, augmented the appeal of Zappa’s past compositions. Zoot Allures displays a new consciousness of lyrical subtlety in Zappa.

The entire aim of the album sounds to be an exposition on exploring the potential and subtlety of Zappa’s tunes. This subtlety may disappoint aficionados of Zappa. On the other hand, it may create a new audience and new appeal for Frank Zappa.

Give my regards to Uncle Meat.

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