Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention: One Size Fits All

By Jason Kennedy

Hi-Fi News & Record Review, November 2006

One Size Fits All is the connoisseur's choice from the cannon of work that Frank Zappa produced over a 30-year period. It comes from the era that followed the original Mothers and their freak out style and precedes Zappa's more straight ahead rock period.

For One Size Zappa gathered some of the finest musicians he had worked with in the previous four years and had them play jazz fusion with a twist that is all his own. The quality of the music here owes a lot to the abilities of George Duke (keyboards, vocals), Chester Thomson ('drums'), Johnny Guitar Watson ('flambé vocals'), Tom Fowler (bass), Ruth Underwood (percussion) and the outrageous vocal talents of Napoleon Murphy Brock, who also plays flute and tenor sax. Of course there is no forgetting the man himself on guitar and vocals.

This is probably Zappa's funkiest album thanks to the presence of Duke who is the strongest presence after the composer;  his analogue synth produces the most gorgeous phat chewy sounds and his piano is as almost percussive as Thompson's drums. But it's the vocal performances on tracks like 'Inca Roads' that take the biscuit. Zappa was good at picking great singers – there are three at least on this album – but Duke made this song his own.


What makes this a great hi-fi album is its density and richness of arrangement. There are often several voices behind the lead in the least likely harmonies and there are always plenty of instruments in the mix. This density can result in a congested overall sound with compressed or shut-in systems; basically the more open and revealing the system used, the greater the variety of textures and rhythms that can be followed without strain.

At the same time the system needs to be sensitive to timing if it is to deliver both the overall vibe and the way that the various instruments and voices contribute to it.

While 'Inca Roads' is generally considered the highlight of this album I consider it to be one of nine superb pieces that go toward making One Size the most solidly consistent and entertaining album in Zappa's oeuvre.