Frank Zappa: Zappa In New York

By Don Heckman

High Fidelity, July 1978

Frank Zappa: Zappa in New York.
Frank Zappa, producer. DiscReet/Warner Bros. 2D 2290, $12.98 (two discs). Tape: JSA 2290, J8A 2290. $12.98.

Zappa's public appearances have been rare enough in recent years to make any new recording a welcome event. He was most active during the late Sixties/early Seventies, and at the time it was difficult to find anyone who was noncommittal about his always-provocative music. Some hated him for his blatant appeals to the subliminal urges of pubescent libidos; others responded enthusiastically to the musical complexities that often lurked beneath the surface of his songs.

This set, recorded live in New York City in late 1976, probably won't change the views of either camp. Three or four of the tracks โ€“ Titties & Beer, Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me, and The Illinois Enema Bandit โ€“ are excursions through his earlier let's shock mom and dad territory. Other titles, such as Manx Needs Woman and Black Page #2, are examples of the truly remarkable, disjunct, Stravinskyesque rhythms Zappa can invent when he wants to. One thing that he can't be faulted for is his selection of musicians. Zappa's personal musical excellence obviously makes it impossible for him to feel comfortable around less than first-rate players. This collection is no exception, featuring horn players Mike and Randy Brecker, Lou Marini, Ronnie Cuber, Tom Malone, and drummer Terry Bozzio. Saxophonist Mike Brecker gets a lot of room to play and uses his space well (especially on Sofa and The Purple Lagoon). Note, too, the extraordinary synthesizer work (Black Page #2) of Ruth Underwood.

Zappa talks too much between tracks, desperately trying to find the right slang words to connect with the common man. (Relax. Frank, there's nothing wrong with being bright.) But he can, when he wants to, play excellent guitar. I cannot make the same comment about his singing, which is at best serviceable for the banal stores he has to tell. Still, unlike so much of what we hear today, a Zappa recording can always surprise. For that, we can be thankful.

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