joshthevegan: (Smalls)

This fantastic image, which Zappa intended as a "direct negative" of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was created to be the cover of the Mother's third album, but was relegated to the interior gatefold because of legal action by Paul McCartney and Capitol Records (further proof that McCartney is, and always has been, a scumball).

The album itself is a brilliantly crafted lampooning of 1960's culture, and I am hard pressed to think of a way to portray that intention that tops this image. Though it was initially hidden within the album, a reissue years later would place this image in its rightful place as the cover of the album.
joshthevegan: (Bassy)

Frank Zappa wore many different hats during his mind-bogglingly prolific career. On any given recording, one is just as likely to hear him as the mad avant garde composer, the big band front man, or the quirky, potty-mouthed master of ceremonies. Of all his personas, none have had the impact nor the influence than his identity as guitar god.

Droves of fantastic guitarists with myriad signature styles have listed Frank Zappa as an influence, and it really is no surprise. Not a single musician can write and play as many different genres with as much mastery as Zappa did, so any guitarist can find areas of Zappa's playing to glean inspiration from.

Traditional "rock" tonalities and time signatures were largely thrown to the wind in his compositions and improvisations, which helped to further define the uniqueness of his approach to the instrument. No guitarist, no matter how individual their sound, can be as easily recognized as Zappa.

Whether using the whole-tone scale to stretch the limits of harmonic possibilities, or insisting on improvisational sections of his concerts that no one (himself included) knew the destination of, Zappa challenges listeners to eschew passive listening in favor of active evaluation and challenges everyone who touches a guitar to be as inventive and virtuosic as possible.

Here's a few samples from his massive catalog of the power of his playing. This is only the tip of a very large, very impressive, very rewarding iceberg.

Rat Tomago
Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar
Pink Napkins
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Flower Power Sucks! )

Oh, baby. Now you're such a drag )

My wife and I decided about a year-ish ago that we both wanted to select an artist with a rather extensive catalog, and go through their works chronologically and learn about them. She chose Neil Young (we're deep in the '80's with that one) and I chose Frank Zappa.

Getting into Frank Zappa can seem like a daunting task to a lot of people, since he recieves so little airplay, and has such a massive catalog. Where do you start? First off, I'd recommend, as the Mad Hatter would say, start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop. Also, hopefully me ranting about these works will inspire a few of you to check out some works by one of the most unique and compelling voices in rock and roll history.

Release Number 1: Freak Out! )

During his incredibly prolific career, Frank Zappa played many different roles. From sarcastic rock and roller, to avant-garde composer and from tongue-in-cheek jokester to jazz-fusion frontman. The variety within his body of work was a conscious choice; a defiant refusal to follow expectations. He openly admitted roping in listeners with silliness to expose them to more serious compositions they might not have heard otherwise.

In 1971, Zappa was attacked onstage by a fan, and knocked into the orchestra pit in front of the stage. He suffered serious fractures to his back, neck, legs, as well as head trauma and a crushed larynx. This injury forced him off the road for over half a year. During this time period, Zappa recorded two albums of jazz-fusion influenced mostly instrumental work. The first one, Waka/Jawaka, featured a smaller ensemble, where the second, The Grand Wazoo, was performed by a band similar to the "big bands" popular in the earlier part of the century.

The Grand Wazoo (on the CD reissue, anyway) opens with what is obviously supposed to be the centerpiece of the album, the title track. The song is a 13 minute masterpiece filled with quirky melody lines, fantastic guitar work, and a magnificent, expressive horn solo that spans most of the track.

This is not to say the rest of the album isn't just as fantastic. From Buddy Rich inspired sections that clip by at break-neck pace, rich with electric piano solos and mind boggling rock guitar leads, to beautiful, soothing moments ("Blessed Relief"), The Grand Wazoo has a little of everything, and the band shines fantastically. They are so tight, that you would think they had been playing together for years, and not just met.

His catalog may seem a bit daunting and a not just a little unaccessable to some, but the brave of heart are rewarded greatly for diving in. The Grand Wazoo is a great starting place for those more interested in Zappa's work as a composer and jazz musician.

September 2014



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