Sunday, April 10, 2016

Frank Zappa - 1972 - The Grand Wazoo

Frank Zappa 
The Grand Wazoo

01. The Grand Wazoo (13:20)
02. For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) (6:06)
03. Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus (2:57)
04. Eat That Question (6:42)
05. Blessed Relief (8:00)

Tracks 1 & 2 are flipped around on the European pressing on Zappa Records from 1990 and the Rykodisc pressing from 1995. On all other CD pressings the track-listing is the same as for the vinyls.

Zappa coined the expression "The Grand Wazoo" back in 1969, recording a song of that title with Don Van Vliet on vocals, with lyrics pointedly aimed at members of Lodge societies. It can be found on Frank Zappa - The Lost Episodes, although it is quite dissimilar to the other 3 versions of "The Grand Wazoo" track.

- Frank Zappa / guitars, percussion, vocals
- Bob Zimmitti, Alan Estes / percussion
- Don Preston / mini-moog
- Toni Duran / guitars
- Erroneous / bass
- Aynsley Dunbar / drums
- George Duke / keyboards
- Ken Shroyer / multiple trombones
- Lee Clement / percussion
- Ernie Watts, Mike Altschul, Joel Peskin, Earl Dumler, Tony Ortega, Joanne Caldwell McNabb, Johnny Rotella, Fred Jackson / woodwinds
- Janet Neville-Ferguson, Sal Marquez / vocals
- Sal Marquez, Malcolm McNabb, Bill Byers, Ken Shroyer Ernie Tack / brass

The theory goes as follows: the vinyl is a dry mix. In the mid 1980s, Zappa transferred the tapes to digital and added some reverb; this is the version found on the 1986-era Ryko CD. In 1990, he added some additional processing and treble, as well as swapping the first two tracks so that the album began with "The Grand Wazoo" instead of "For Calvin." This version was released on both the Zappa Records CD and the 1995 Ryko CD. The 2012 UMe version reverts to the dry vinyl mix, but still swaps the first two tracks. Whew.

After the superb artistic success of Jawaka's longer and jazzier tracks, Frank returned to expand on those ideas and The Grand Wazoo is the result. And Frank really put in a gigantic effort and hired a big band guest list for this concept. Graced with a great Romans versus Assyrians front-cover and a mad spy rear-sleeve artwork, the story is developed in a text by Frank and there is an annex explanation to the "mysterious horn", presented all through the album's music, as he uses a brass section and a woodwind section in different roles. But the unsung hero on this album is Dunbar's incredible drumming

The opening title track is 13-mins+ milestone in Frank's career, maybe his crowning achievement (at least to this writer's eyes and ears), as the piece hops in the already cruising bandwagon, with Erroneous' bass and Ainsley's drum astounding us, the latter so brilliant that he almost eclipses the master's brilliant guitar work. Soon the wood section takes a first dip in the bath, but when the rhythm section breaks, it is the brass section that underlines in the low register Zappa's guitar?. Pretty soon the brass and woods are duelling for attention under Ainsley's direction and will rivet you from your eardrums right into your buttcheeks to your seat for the remainder of the track. Flabbergastingly jaw-dropping stuff. For Calvin has exactly the same line-up, but chooses to ride at half-speed and both the winds and brass fight it out in a much less civilized manner for your orgasmic pleasure.

The short Cleetus Awreetus is a wind-laden fast piece that again has both antagonist factions battling it out in on a different ground, this time a very quick rhythm, but it is marred (but not that bad) by some silly scatting vocals. But the flipside's highlight is a great Eat That Question opening on a George Duke electric piano solo, but this is where Ainsley rules and soars in the stratosphere, reigning supreme of Duke's second brilliant solo, but the genius is in the slower mid-section, before it picks up again to end with the wind sections. The 8-mins Blessed Relief is another foray into jazz territory, almost a standard cool thing thingie. Some outstanding interplay again on this song.

This album should be discovered after Jaka Jawaka (Hot Rats 2) as this is the big band version of that classic. The use of two wind sections (brass and woods) with radically different purposes is certainly groundbreaking (at least to me). As the first section is hovering above doing countless solos and embellishing the music, the second ones is providing a bass drone giving an extraordinary jumpy feeling to the music, a bit like Maupin was doing on Bitches Brew and in Mwandishi. At times it sounds like there is 30 musicians at the same time as this is so powerful. Zappa plays very quietly and oeuvres as the "chef d'orchestre", but here the most impressive player is definitely Ainsley Dunbar - who will leave Zappa to co-found, with excellent Santana sidemen, Journey (interesting jazzy prog rock for the first three albums and he will leave as they veer off to a disgusting FM - AOR - Mainstream crap). Dunbar who holds everything together with dazzling drumming. A must in Zappa's career, especially that he holds back on his personal sense of humour, to concentrate on the superb music. Too bad he didn't try this more often, really. This album should be included in the Hot Rats series. Essential stuff and more.



  2. link failure.
    any chance of a re - up.
    that would be greatly appreciated.
    and thank you for all the fantastic zappa research.

  3. i'm so sorry.
    i meant link failure on the burnt weeny sandwich post.
    not this one.
    kind regards.