* Dowland: ‘Flow My Teares’ (Guillon/Bellocq): Église Abbatiale, Saintes 7-18-09 (FM CDR)
* Biber: Missa Christi resurgentis (English Concert/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Vivaldi: Concertos and Sinfonias for Strings (VBO/Marcon) (Arkiv Prod. CD)
* J.S. Bach: The Works for Lute (Kirchhof) (Sony Classical 2CD)
* Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden: Garrison Church, Copenhagen 4-08-08 (FM 2CDR)
* Berio: Coro (Kolner Rundfunkchor/Sinfonie-Orchester/Berio) (DG CD)
* Sun Ra: Calling Planet Earth (DA Music/Freedom CD)
* Sun Ra: Horizon (Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation (Art Yard CD)
* Cecil Taylor Quartet, et al.: At Newport (1957) (Verve CD)
* Cecil Taylor Unit/Roswell Rudd Sextet: Mixed (Impulse! CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come (Revenant 2CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures (Blue Note CD)
* Mary Halvorson Trio: The Vortex, London, England 12-14-09 (FM CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: Secrets (Columbia LP)
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: Berkeley Community Theatre, CA 11-9-72 (Pre-FM 2CDR)
* Praxis: Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) (Axiom/Island CD)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009 remaster) (Apple/EMIT CD)
* Rolling Stones: Unsurpassed Masters, Vol.1 (fan/boot CDR)
* Rolling Stones: Unsurpassed Masters, Vol.2 (fan/boot CDR)
* Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (Columbia 2LP)
* The Mothers of Invention: Burnt Weeny Sandwich (Bizarre/Reprise LP)
* Frank Zappa: Hot Rats (Bizarre/Reprise LP)
* Frank Zappa: Chunga’s Revenge (Bizarre/Reprise LP)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings (d.7-9) (GD/Rhino 9+1CD)
* Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (Reprise LP)
* Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Into the Great Wide Open (MCA LP)
* The Style Council: The Cost of Loving (Polydor LP)
* Spacemen 3: The Perfect Prescription (Genius CD)
* Chemical Brothers: Exit Planet Dust (Astralwerks CD)
* Future Sound of London: The Isness (FSOL/Hypnotic CD)
* The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* David Gray: White Ladder (RCA CD)
* Robert Pollard: We All Got Out of the Army (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Circus Devils: Mother Skinny (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
You might have noticed that I’m slowly making my way chronologically through the Frank Zappa catalog (on original vinyl, I might add). I was exposed to Zappa’s music at an early age by my middle school/high school music teacher, the (now legendary) (Dr.) Gary Sousa. I was maybe a bit too young -- I can’t imagine a junior high school teacher getting away with playing this stuff for kids today, but things were different (perhaps better) back then. Mr. Sousa was a great teacher and a profound influence on me, way beyond Zappa records -- he could (sometimes) make those ragtag bands sing! In any event, boy did Zappa’s music ring my bell -- and not just the pre-pubescent thrill at hearing dirty words coming out of the hi-fi. No, I immediately recognized the compositional brilliance and virtuosic musicianship behind the snickering, jokey veneer. You see, I was also by then deep into piano studies with composer, Dr. Allen Brings, who inculcated a love for modernistic weirdness, but who abhorred popular music of all stripes. Zappa was someone who didn’t take it all so darn seriously and could make “classical music” rock. I was in heaven. To me, “Inca Roads” was perfect! I thought this was the future! Furthermore, Zappa instilled a burning desire to play electric guitar -- after all, you can’t bend the pitch or, better yet, generate howls of feedback on a piano! It was not until much later that I finally “plugged in,” but in the meantime I bought all of Zappa’s records I could get my hands on. The Verve albums were long out of print and are still hard to find, but the Discreet albums were readily available and I loved the new stuff like Sheik Yerbouti and Joe’s Garage, which even garnered some radio play at the time.
I saw him once at the Hartford Civic Center in 1981, but I was sorely disappointed. He pranced around the stage in hot pink, skin tight trousers singing the stupidest songs in the repertoire, only strapping on the guitar for a couple of condescending, carelessly tossed off solos over simplistic (yet emptily hyperactive) one-chord vamps. After going away to college, my love affair with Zappa soured completely and I eventually sold all my albums in a fit of pique after discovering punk rock (a genre which Frank had gone out of his way to ridicule). I thereafter dismissed Zappa as a sneering, cynical purveyor of pompous, puerile junk -- which is true enough, but misses the point.
After moving to Tennessee, I had a change of heart and I started re-buying all the original LPs I could find, listening to them once and filing them away. I enjoyed hearing them again, but mostly I just had to have them, if only to reclaim some lost part my lost childhood. Music, like smell or taste, has the innate ability to summon up the past with an immediacy that mere memory can never equal. And there is that compositional brilliance and instrumental virtuosity that is still compelling, despite all the toilet humor. 1969 was a good year for Frank: Uncle Meat is probably The Mothers of Invention’s most perfectly realized conception, but Zappa’s first solo album, Hot Rats, is more immediately enjoyable, focusing on musicianship for its own sake rather than relegating it to the service of arch social commentary.
So it goes with Frank and me. The music is uniformly great, but the jokes are stale and the politics dubious. Ultimately, I think Zappa did himself a disservice with his insistence on being as irreverent and offensive as possible while also desperately wanting to be taken seriously as a composer. Then again, this was just a measure of his peerless integrity: he did it his way and couldn’t care less what I (or anyone else) thought about it. For myself, I can only listen to this music when I feel like I can tolerate being insulted in return for musical kicks. That doesn’t happen very often, but I have enjoyed listening to this stuff over the past couple weeks. We’ll see how far I get in this chronological survey before I abandon ship. The seas really get rough from this point forward.
NB: In Zappa’s own perverse fashion, he messed with the 1960s-era albums when transferring them to compact disc, going so far as to overdub new rhythm section parts on some and digitally remixing just about the whole catalog. Accordingly, the CDs represent a questionable revisionist history and make the original vinyl LPs highly desirable. I’m sure Frank thought the CDs sounded better and maybe in some objective ways they do; but they don’t sound anything like the original albums.