Wednesday, March 30, 2011

25 Records That Mean Something To Me, #2

It's hard to talk about Frank Zappa and just mention one specific album. In fact, when I initially conceived of this series of blog entries (of which I've managed to complete a whopping ONE so far), I'm sure I had a different Zappa album in mind than the one I'm about to talk about. But I pulled this disc out earlier today when I was picking out music for K.C. and I to clean the house to, and realized that somewhere, at some point, I obtained a new copy of it and replaced the original CD copy I had gotten 15 years ago. I was pleased to discover this; it meant that I didn't have to worry about the disc wearing out any time soon. My other copy had been worn slick, as I recall. It was scratched up pretty bad, especially for a CD in MY collection (I tend to be pretty protective of my discs...I had taken this record on so many road trips, placed it and removed it from so many CD wallets, that it finally started to look pretty rough). Anyway, all of this to say that I realized THE GRAND WAZOO is a record that means something to me, for sure.

THE GRAND WAZOO is the second of two albums Zappa released in the early seventies that highlighted his particular take on what might be called a jazz-rock fusion (the first being WAKA/JAWAKA) extension of the HOT RATS concept, but in a larger ensemble context. These are almost Zappa's "big band" albums; when given the opportunity to record with a rhythm section including guitars, keys, bass & drums augmented by a full brass and woodwind section, these two albums were what came out. There is a jazz structure (or some version thereof) to many of the tunes here. Some sort of theme, head, or main melody (or several) occur, then a series of solos by different members of the ensemble, and then a return to the theme(s) at the end of the piece. That is probably an oversimplification, but it gives at least a little bit of context for those who might not have heard this record.

It's an album that is complex without being difficult, serious without being dreary, goofy without being childish, and beautiful (gorgeous, even) without being saccharine, even for a moment. The finest example of all these attributes, I think, is the final track, "Blessed Relief" (I personally hear the first word there as "bles-sed", two syllables, not one). It's a elegant, slow piece, with a sort of lilting melody at the beginning that gives way to a gorgeous, open section with great electric piano arpeggios. Then come the solos, which are fantastic. In my first post in this series I talked a great deal about atmosphere...this particular track has atmosphere to spare. It's a fairly unique track in Zappa's oeuvre; there's really not another quite like it.

As unique as it is, the song and the album still very much bear Zappa's image, sound, and vibe...but perhaps in such a way that a certain grace is present that isn't always found in some of his other work. Highly recommended, highly regarded.

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