Friday, January 20, 2023

Frank Zappa 48: Best Band and Jazz Noise

Frank spent the first two years of the ‘90s visiting formerly Communist countries and overseeing the CD debuts of several catalog items. Then the summer of 1991 brought forth not one but two double-CDs dedicated to performances by the 1988 band, referred to directly in the title of the first set.
The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life was likely the more accessible of the two for most people, consisting of more familiar songs plus comedic threads. Despite being cobbled from multiple locations, the first disc is presented much like a standard set, with something of an intro amid “Heavy Duty Judy”. Mike Keneally gets to hone his Johnny Cash impression, not only on “Ring Of Fire” but several songs after. A variety of old favorites make way for a reggae arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero” with a now-customary quote from “My Sharona”, and four songs from One Size Fits All close the disc.
The second disc sports some interesting covers, beginning with robotic stabs at both “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” from a soundcheck. “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” (performed on St. Patrick’s Day) segues into the theme from The Godfather before a “comedy” monologue in the guise of a Southern televangelist. Several lyrical changes ridiculing Jimmy Swaggart dot the next handful of songs, and the first part of “The Torture Never Stops” incorporates several classic TV show themes. The highlight of the album, and certainly the tour, was their arrangement of “Stairway To Heaven”, taken at a reggae pace, which switches to ska for the guitar solo, played note for note in unison by the horn section, then to the original’s tempo for the finale. (Not included, allegedly for copyright reasons, was the band’s “Beatles Medley”, which put new words, mostly about Swaggart, to the original melodies and arrangements of “Norwegian Wood”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”. One such performance would finally surface on Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show in 2021.)

Make A Jazz Noise Here gets its title from an aside in “Big Swifty” that includes quotes from several classical pieces. As a whole it’s more concerned with instrumentals, solos, and improvisation, but he made sure to include an opening “Stinkfoot” to talk more about Jimmy Swaggart. A long piece combining various chunks from “Pound For A Brown” featuring manipulated samples gives way thankfully to the “Orange County Lumber Truck Medley” into “Theme From Lumpy Gravy”. A lengthy “King Kong” is given the reggae treatment, with a monologue from Bruce Fowler about prehistoric fish and Congressional samples breaking up the solos, that degenerates into a free-for-all titled “Star Wars Won’t Work”.
The second disc is devoted to more noodling for fans of the more adventurous material of the previous decade, including “The Black Page”, “Dupree’s Paradise” (much shorter than on the Helsinki album), and “Sinister Footwear”, with a couple of detours into brief performances of pieces by Bartok and Stravinsky. We suspect “Stevie’s Spanking” was included simply because Mr. Vai had been more visible in the hair metal tape racks, but it’s an opportunity for Frank to shred, as he also does on “Alien Orifice”, “Cruisin’ For Burgers”, and “Advance Romance”. “Strictly Genteel” provides, as always, a nice finale.
If you like the other releases by the 1988 band, Make A Jazz Noise Here does complete the set, but it’s much more indulgent and geared towards musos and other geeks. Its rating therefore reflects its necessity.

Frank Zappa The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (1991)—3
Frank Zappa
Make A Jazz Noise Here (1991)—