May 1, 2011

Playlist Week of 04-30-11

Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti

* Englische Virginalmusik um 1600 (Leonhardt) (Telefunken LP)
* Biber: Missa Christi Resurgentis (The English Concert/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Biber: Mensa Sonora (Musica Antiqua Köln/Goebel) (Archiv Produktion CD)†
* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†
* Musica Florea (Stryncl): Scholss Eggenberg, Graz, Austria 9-01-08 (FM CDR)
* Westminster Choir/Flummerfelt: O Magnum Mysterium (Chesky LP)
* Sun Ra: Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Hunter College, New York, NY 6-16-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* John Abercrombie: Cat And Mouse (ECM CD)
* Willie Nelson: Teatro (Island CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch CD+DVD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Lost Highway 2CD)†/‡
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009) (selections) (Apple/EMI CD)†/‡
* The Who: Quadrophenia (Track 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4 No.3: Denver ’73 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips 2011 “Bonus Disc” (12-06-73x) (GDP/Rhino CD)
* Grateful Dead: Feyline Field, Tempe, AZ 11-25-73 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Onandaga War Memorial, Syracuse, NY 5-17-81 (set 2) (SBD 2CDR)‡
* Love: Forever Changes (Elektra/Rhino CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won (Atlantic 2DVD-A)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Reprise/Warner Bros. 2-45RPM LP)
* Stevie Nicks: Belladonna (Modern Records/Warner Bros. LP)
* Frank Zappa: Wazoo (Zappa Records 2CD)
* Frank Zappa: Imaginary Diseases (Zappa Records 2CD)
* Frank Zappa: Läther (Rykodisc 3CD)
* Frank Zappa: Zoot Allures (Warner Bros. LP)
* Frank Zappa: Sheik Yerbouti (Zappa Records 2LP)
* Frank Zappa: Joe’s Garage, Act I (Zappa Records LP)
* Frank Zappa: Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III (Zappa Records 2LP)
* Frank Zappa: Shut Up And Play Your Guitar (Barking Pumpkin 3LP)
* Frank Zappa: Guitar (Rykodisc 2CD)
* Frank Zappa: Trance-Fusion (Zappa Records CD)
* The Red Krayola: The Parable Of Arable Land/God Bless The Red Krayola… (Int’l. Artists/Charly CD)
* The Red Krayola: Live 1967 (d.1) (Drag City 2CD)
* The Red Krayola: Singles (Drag City CD)
* The Red Krayola: The Red Krayola (Drag City LP)
* Mayo Thompson: Corky’s Debt To His Father (Texas Revolution/Drag City CD)
* The Fall: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… (Omnibus Edition) (d.4) (Beggars Banquet 4CD)
* My Bloody Valentine: Isn’t Anything (Plain LP)
* My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (Plain LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted (Luxe & Reduxe) (Matador 2CD)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)†
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD)†
* Panda Bear: Person Pitch (Paw Tracks CD)
* Panda Bear: Tomboy (Paw Tracks CD)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)



Lizzy’s been out of town, so I’ve been left to my own devices this week in terms of the music choices. Of course, one of the many amazing things about her is her refined taste in music and, moreover, her big ears and infinitely open mind. But there are some things she barely tolerates (Led Zeppelin) and others she simply cannot abide (AC/DC). So while there is seldom a conflict, you could rightly conclude she is not into “heavy metal.” Accordingly, I rocked out a bit, given the opportunity. But that was not my main focus this week. Instead, I decided to pick up where I left off with my chronological survey of Frank Zappa.

Actually, it was prompted by having recently picked up Wazoo, a 2-CD set recorded at the Boston Music Hall on September 24, 1972, featuring his ambitious 20-piece “Grand Wazoo” orchestra playing purely instrumental music. Listening to it, I was reminded of Zappa’s undeniable genius and how much the guy meant to me in my youth. So, I decided to wade back into the skanky waters of the later discography, despite my revulsion at some of the lyrics. I’m no prude—but some of this stuff is downright offensive, even to me. It’s probably a good thing Lizzy wasn’t around.

This is precisely the point, as dubious as it might be. Sure, I thought this stuff was hilarious when I was fifteen (although I didn’t quite get all the jokes), But now, most of it just makes me cringe. I can remember my Dad accusing me of “getting off” on that “degenerate smut” and my feebly trying to defend Zappa’s musicianship compositional complexity—and insisting it was all satire. Frank didn’t really feel that way about women or Jews or Catholics or homosexuals—or did he? (it’s hard to tell, even now). Nevertheless, I memorized every filthy routine and sniggered with pretended knowingness—but what really “got me off” was the music, particularly Zappa’s ecstatically mind-blowing guitar solos. At the time, I only dreamed of plugging in an electric guitar and wailing away like Frank, with lascivious abandon. Honestly, it was his example, more than anyone else’s, which inspired me to ditch the piano and pick up a Stratocaster years later. But that’s another story…

I still have a special fondness for Sheik Yerbouti (get it?). The double-LP set came out in March of 1979, at the height of my Zappa infatuation and still gives me a thrill to listen to it again. Sure, most of the songs are ridiculous, but they are surrounded by such richly detailed musical accompaniments I am inclined to forgive the puerile and cynical lyrics. Mostly recorded live and then extensively overdubbed in Zappa’s own meticulous fashion, this is about as high-tech as analog tape ever got and the original vinyl, mastered by Bob Ludwig, sounds stunningly great. And side four is one of Zappa’s most powerful works: “Wild Love” takes another snide look at dysfunctional sexual politics, but without the overbearing scatology and wrapped in a deliriously hyper-modal musical setting. It’s a wild ride and over before you know it, segueing immediately into “Yo Mama.” A sneering putdown of a hapless hipster wannabe, the song appears to be downright cruel. And yet the music is gentle, almost sweet—mercifully erupting into an extended guitar solo of awe-inspiring majesty. Hotdamn! This is one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded! As it builds and builds to a densely orchestrated reprise, this seemingly nasty little number becomes genuinely redemptive. There may not be any hope for the song’s subject, but listeners are fundamentally transformed. All these years later, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Joe’s Garage is perhaps Zappa’s late masterpiece, an elaborate three-act musical about a dystopian world where music is made illegal. Inspired by the Iranian Revolution (where such laws were being contrived), the plot is admittedly thin, based on the characters’ suffering and degradation at the hands of a criminalized music business. But all that is secondary to the gloriously baroque music. Beyond the gleefully labyrinthine arrangements, Zappa’s guitar playing is uniformly magnificent—culminating in the surprisingly sentimental set piece, “Watermelon In Easter Hay.” Built upon a deceptively simple-sounding series of arpeggios in an irregular 9/4 meter, Zappa renders Joe’s “last imaginary guitar solo” with astonishingly tenderness and exquisite tonal control. This is god-like guitar playing! Truly one of Zappa’s most intensely emotional and truly moving performances, it is the pot of gold at the end of a smoggy rainbow. Ultimately, Frank’s guitar wizardry can’t redeem the embarrassment of “Wet T-Shirt Nite” or “Dong Work For Yuda,” no matter how impressive it is. And so it goes…

So, Shut Up and Play Your Guitar! This is what many of us wished—and Frank answered. But that sprawling three-LP set is almost too much of a good thing. Nothing but a string of guitar solos, recorded live but brutally shorn of their context; it is imposingly monolithic, if not to say boring—despite Zappa’s deft editing. The later Guitar and Trance-Fusion collections are even more diffuse and while I can marvel at the virtuosic displays I am left wondering if those stupid songs are actually what make these instrumental forays seem so genuinely miraculous. On their own, they start to pile up and lose their impact. Even so, there is much to savor here if you love Zappa’s guitar playing.

As the ‘80s wore on, I turned my back on Zappa. I sold all my albums and dismissed him as a depraved merchant of “smut”—just as Dad decreed. Instead, I monkishly worshiped at the altar of free jazz and punk rock (even though I still wanted to sound like Frank on guitar). Later, in the 1990s, I re-purchased all the original albums and, after listening to them once, filed them away. I needed to have them—not to listen to, necessarily, but to own them, take control of them. Obviously, I have a contentious relationship with Mr. Zappa. I keep thinking I’ve outgrown him only to re-realize his unique brilliance and his profound influence on me. There is something uplifting in the overall depravity I cannot quite reconcile—it makes me dizzy thinking about it, like I’m still defending him from my father’s bitter accusations. Zappa continues to exert a deep but uncomfortable influence in my life.

I started this chronological survey a year ago and still have a way to go in the official discography. After this week’s overdose, it will likely be sometime this summer before I can stand to wade into the swamp again. Stay tuned—if you wanna.


Liz said...

Oh, those amazing contradictions! That's where the magic is, don't you think? Can't wait to get home to my amazing DJ and his fabulous record collection:) Hungry for music! And home sweet home.

Sam said...

"Stay tuned—if you wanna." Oh, yeah, I wanna! I especially want to hear more about "Wazoo"--from my second favorite period of Frank's (after the Uncle Meat era). I too have had a rough time with "Shut Up," mostly because it's just too damn slick and fusion-y, and not in a good way. I know I should go back and give it another chance, because his playing -is- brilliant, but the overall sound and settings he contrives for these albums are just too cold and sterile to me, and there's way too much Chad Whackerisms for my taste (I don't even know if ol' Chad even plays on any of it but it's that slick sensibility that turns me off). I have one friend who swears by "Joe's Garage" but I could barely make it through one side. I'm willing to give it another go, but I dread it. I'm sure you know what I mean as you prepare to slog through "Thing-Fish."

Sam said...

Almost forgot! Here's my list from last week. Tops on my list in a week of great listening: the new High Llamas (found it streaming for a short while, so I was able to hear it--haven't bought it yet but it sounds wonderful) and getting blown away yet again by the incredible Braxton Quartet, this time at the Knitting factory in '93. What a band!

Playlist 2011-05-02:

*Bix Beiderbecke: Bix Restored Volume 4: June 1928-September 1930 (disc 2)
*Anthony Braxton/Ted Reichman: 1993 Duo (Leipzig)
*Anthony Braxton Quartet: 1993-11-11 Knitting Factory (CDR)
*Anthony Braxton Quartet: 1993-11-12 Knitting Factory (CDR) set 1
*Trevor Dunn Trio Convulsant: 2004-10-14 Hemlock Tavern, SF (CDR)
*Duke Ellington: The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra (discs 1, 2)
*Coleman Hawkins: The Bebop Years (disc 4)
*Billie Holiday: The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959 (disc 6)
*Joelle Leandre + Mephista: 2010-06-25 The Stone, NYC
*Nine Strings Trio: Live July & August 2010 (CDR)
*Sun Ra and His Mythic Science Arkestra: The Paris Tapes
*Cecil Taylor Jazz Unit: The Early Unit 1962
*Keith Tippett Group: Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening
*Animal Collective: Grass
*Animal Collective: Fall Be Kind
*Beach Boys: Best Unsurpassed Masters (1962-1969) (boot CDR) disc 1
*Dark Carpet: Let's Make a Deal (CDR compilation)
*Jimi Hendrix Experience: BBC Sessions (disc 1)
*High Llamas: Talahomi Way (streaming)
*Sean O'Hagan & Jean Pierre Muller: The Musical Paintings, Vol. 1
*Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation
*Supremes: The Supremes (2000 box set) discs 1, bonus disc (live)
*XTC: Coat of Many Cupboards (disc 3)

Reading List 2011-05-02:

*James, P.D. The Private Patient (started)
*James, P.D. The Lighthouse (finished)
*Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights (transl. Malcolm C. Lyons) Vol. 1 (in progress)
*Ebert, Roger. The Great Movies (in progress)
*Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seldman. Ulysses Annotated, rev. and expanded ed. (in progress)
*Joyce, James. Ulysses (reread/in progress)
*Segar, E.C. The Complete E.C. Segar Popeye Vol. 8 (Dailies 1932-1933) (in progress)

Rodger Coleman said...

Sam -- "Wazoo" is excellent and includes an instrumental rendition of "Gregary Peccary" that is very interesting. As for "Thing Fish," I don't own it and don't plan to. I have my limits...

Roddus said...

An amusing anecdote in regard to Our female partners dislikes in music.etc..

Back in 98' I sold all my vinyl at a market in town. It was a fun experience selling some pretty cool music to like minded individuals. I had all of the early Mothers LPs and moist of Franks later output. One dude and his Girlfriend were browsing my selection, (I had about 1000 to sell) when he pulled out my copy of "Lumpy Gravy" "Wow" he said "I haven't seen this in years" His girlfriend looked over at the cover and Replied "You won't ever play that at my place" He brought the record.

Oh and I'm not aloud to play Throbbing Gristle while the Mrs is in earshot.