Jazz, Blues And The Mothers

By Bertram Stanleigh

Audio, November 1967

No other group of hippy musicians displays the same amount of freedom, variety, invention, and lunatic good spirits as the West Coast group that calls itself The Mothers of Invention. Utilizing a variety of electronic sounds and an agglomeration of strange forms of percussin, they produce musical backgrounds for a vocal message that ranges from the eloquently poetic, to earthy good humor, to embarrassingly unfunny bathroom jokes, to simple high-spirited inanity.

Everything is approached in a rough, vigorous style that matches well with the long-haired, unwashed look of this undisciplined appearing crew. But thoughtful listening reveals that there is a substantial amount of careful work and genuine sensitivity behind this coarse facade. Music that sounds like little more than a rude joke on first hearing, reveals unexpected inner subtlety and charm after a number of repetitions.

Leader of the group, and composer of all its music, is a leonine-appearing fellow with a disheveled coiffure of shoulder-length ringlets, an ample moustache, and a small goatee. He is Frank Zappa, and on his new recording, his creative talents extend to the notes and artwork for the record jacket. Although his music stems from rhythm & blues and rock & roll, Zappa has tried to get away from the short composition of conventional length. He has combined a number of pieces of varying duration into record-side length works with a single programmatic theme and a close musical relationship.

Much of his dramatic effect is based on slow unison chanting of a type that derives directly from the theatre of Brecht and Weill, and he relies heavily on musical quotations for other effects. But the level of creativity in his work is high enough so that these devices are successfully incorporated into Zappa's own design. It is a far different result from the kind of vulgar shenanigans in which the late Spike Jones imposed his own musical nonsense upon the design of someone else's music.

Nonetheless, there is much of the same feeling of irreverent, zany fun making about the Mothers that there was about the Jones band, and if you don't want to search for the superior craftsmanship and creativity of this new group, you can still en joy this music on its surface level for its wacky sounds and earthy lyrics.


Side 1 – #1 in a series of Underground Oratorios –  is called Absolutely Free. It goes on for nearly twenty minutes of wailing, chanting, shouting, and groaning analogies about plastic people, prunes, beans, cabbages, and pumpkins. But for all its strangeness, it contains moments of truly haunting beauty as well as a robust spirit with which it is easy to identify.

Side 2 – #2 in a series of Underground Oratorios –  is called the MOI American Pageant. It deals with drinking, middle-class status symbols, the high-school dance, sex, and the country club dance. It adds up to a pretty cogent picture of the hippy's view of American society, and if it's a distorted view, it's still a pithy and clever commentary that makes some pretty telling digs.

Since its earlier two-record set for Verve, the Mothers of Invention have had one replacement and added a couple of extra performers to their ranks. Judging from the album notes, which are a bit difficult to decipher without an analytical guide, there are presently 7 1/2 in the group. At times they manage to sound like a hundred.

The recording is vastly more successful than their previous set. A product of the same engineer and studio, it has probably benefited greatly from the experience gained at the earlier sessions. This is difficult sound to focus properly. Levels vary widely, and many of the effects rely on either close or distant miking. It all comes across crisply, with excellent perspective, and a reasonable helping of directional gimmickry.

The Mothers of Invention: Absolutely Free Verve Stereo V65013X ($5.98)

Performance: A Recording: B+