FRANK ZAPPA — The Grand Wazoo (The Mothers)

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FRANK ZAPPA - The Grand Wazoo (The Mothers) cover
4.66 | 51 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1972


A1 For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) 7:15
A2 The Grand Wazoo 13:24
B1 Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus 2:55
B2 Eat That Question 6:41
B3 Blessed Relief 8:00

Total Time: 37:06


- Frank Zappa / guitars, percussion, vocals
- Bob Zimmitti, Alan Estes / percussion
- Don Preston / mini-moog
- Toni Duran / guitars
- Erroneous / bass
- Aynsley Dunbar / drums
- George Duke / keyboards
- Ken Shroyer / multiple trombones
- Lee Clement / percussion
- Ernie Watts, Mike Altschul, Joel Peskin, Earl Dumler, Tony Ortega, Joanne Caldwell McNabb, Johnny Rotella, Fred Jackson / woodwinds
- Janet Neville-Ferguson, Sal Marquez / vocals
- Sal Marquez, Malcolm McNabb, Bill Byers, Ken Shroyer Ernie Tack / brass

About this release

Bizarre MS 2093 (US)

Recorded at Paramount Studios, Hollywood

Thanks to EZ Money, snobb, js for the updates


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Dr Heckle Throws Mr Jive Into A (Deserted) Mosh Pit

I've had to scoff some serious amounts of humble pie lately with regards to Zappa. For years I had considered 'Hot Rats' as about as good as he was likely to get in my estimation until I heard 'One Size Fits All' which supplanted the former on the winner's podium in the Lemming household. Well dip me in brie and call me a high cholesterol niche snack if you like, but the moustachioed one has gone and upset my fragile apple-cart once more. This is as sincere an artistic statement as Frank ever issued in his long and prolific career. There is none of the puerile scatology, bitter caustic or smug parody that littered his early work with the Mothers or his increasingly spiteful solo material intended for the rock demographic (see 'Joe's Garage') Something of an 'Oops Inside Your Head' malaise appears to have afflicted Zappa in the interim and we can only guess as to the underlying causes. His assault at a London concert, where a hirsute 'Rainbow warrior' shoved Frank into the empty orchestra pit, confined him to a wheelchair at around this time and such a traumatic episode would have had a salutary impact on anyone. Whether 'The Grand Wazoo' sold like mittens in a horror costumiers I'm not sure, but having your one heartfelt offering to the masses attract tepid indifference would hit any self respecting artist pretty hard. Perhaps Frank decided from that point on 'Screw Em...the real Frank Zappa is pearls before swine'. Instead of shrill recriminations let's just enjoy and celebrate an album that exemplifies what Jazz-rock could and should have been in stark contrast to that sterile, appeasing and hollow victory for accuracy that the genre degenerated into.

The Grand Wazoo - This may have been an instrumental version of a song called 'Think It Over' salvaged from part of Frank's aborted musical 'Hunchentoot.' It's testimony to Zappa's brilliance as a composer and arranger that he understood intuitively that a list of ingredients does not represent taste. For me to describe what this piece sounds like I'm gonna have to separate the constituent parts which completely misses the point of successful synergy i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Anyways, the predominant groove is redolent of a very sophisticated Chicago blues shuffle, over which Zappa has scored an ingenious big band style chart that Stan Kenton would rob the aged and infirm for featuring a 12 piece horn section, the uncanny drumming of Aynsley Dunbar and the languid but anchoring bass of the cryptically named Erroneous. (nee Alex Dmochowski, who may have cloaked his identity on account of not having a valid green card for the USA) The guitar sounds exploited by Zappa here and elsewhere on the album are worth mentioning as they sound as though the shimmering chorale effect they imitate may have been sourced from a wah wah pedal and a rotating Leslie speaker? As impressive as such heavy artillery might appear on the printed page, what use is state of the art weaponry if you're only firing soda at the infidel? Rest easy padre, as Zappa is packing some serious heat hereabouts in the shape of a stellar main theme, a beautiful developmental section and a finale resolution that is tantamount to a stealth bombing raid on the senses. Mercifully, the improvised orgies that soil so much of jazz-rock's pristine linen are avoided here by sweeping up those 'Miles' of noodles that would otherwise just litter the ticker tape parade. Witness the thrilling (but cruelly brief) slide guitar excursion by Toni Duran, a trombone solo from Bill Byers that slips, slithers and glides in admirable fashion before handing the baton to Sal Marquez's eloquent but still muted trumpet. Throw in Don Preston's Minimoog oscillator death throes and have the horns quote from Sol Bloom's 'Little Egypt' and you have in yer mittens one of the most enduring and eclectic masterpieces of music irrespective of category or style. If someone says they still loathe all Zappa's music after hearing this, they're either lying, deaf or the type of person who would buy a concert ticket solely for the purposes of throwing the main attraction into the orchestra pit.

For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) - Opens with some swirling guitar picking that resembles those ambiguous and haunting chord 'clouds' created by McLaughlin's Mahavishnu. The only conventional vocals on the entire record are sung alternately by Janet Ferguson and Sal Marquez. This is borderline avant but despite my habitual resistance to the latter somehow manages to work in the most delightful way and is stubbornly resistant to any sort of causal analysis. A beautiful opening melody is interrupted by the mock operatic bravura of Marquez before the track slowly dissolves into a dissipating and stark ambience where (gulp) the dreaded chromatic percussion monster stirs from his lair but the resulting skeletal chiming is miraculously apt. Preston's Minimoog is subject to another full cavity body search and squeals and shrieks with a ferocity that belies its size before the whole bizarre undertaking just suddenly breathes its last. Odd, but in a good Mort Garson, Dick Hyman sorta way. Trivia fans are advised that the horns quote (I think) the 'New Brown Clouds' section of 'The Adventures of Greggery Peccary' halfway through the track.

Cletus Awreetus Awrightus - The wordless vocals are by the mysterious and best unexplained 'Chunky', George Duke (la la la's) and Frank Zappa (rum pum pum's) erm...respectively. This tune radiates playful fun in shed-loads and shorn of his routine mordant spleen, just proves that at the dark heart of the Zappa critter there once resided a kernel of innocent joy. The 'Tack' piano solo is by George Duke and the jesting tongue in cheek saxophone solo is delivered by the inspired and unerring Ernie Watts. Cartoon music for grown-ups.

Eat That Question - An unaccompanied glissando electric piano introduction by Duke, and never has Fender's flagship keyboard product been exploited to better effect. Listen carefully to how Dunbar mirrors with astonishing sensitivity the phrasing and articulation of Duke's magnificent solo without letting the propulsive groove drop for a second. You are in the presence of true greatness dear readers. Rhodes junkies everywhere will either be hyper ventilating or breaking out in hives before this number's conclusion. Although at surface level this entire composition is fuelled by a simple four bar phrase it's such a malleable and catchy theme that it begs to be explored further and Frank's wah wah drenched solo certainly confirms he knew he had a certifiable belter under his fingers and always invokes the spirit of Hendrix to my mind.

Blessed Relief - The most conventionally pretty music ever to have escaped Zappa's poison pen but it is neither sentimental, bland or ingratiating in the slightest. A delicious harmonic progression provides a worthy vehicle for Sal Marquez's trumpet which in places approaches burnished molten tears (sniffle) The textures, melodies and harmonies inhabit a creation so achingly beautiful that this is, without fear of contradiction, the only Zappa number that has ever made your feisty reviewer weep real salty rodent tear-drops. Once again, electric piano victims are advised to have a medic and overnight bag at the ready lest Duke's ethereal and spine tingling solo initiate a relapse into Rhodes dementia.

'The Grand Wazoo' is a true masterpiece and one that with telling irony was achieved during one of those few instances when Frank Zappa allowed his guard to drop momentarily to reveal a creature capable of music so accomplished and fuelled by genuine love of his art that the commensurate vulnerability he so abhorred and feared would have been cherished not scorned.
Those of you who may not be aware of the vast musical universes excavated and explored by Mr. Frank Zappa have my pity. I'm no FZ expert by a long shot but I'm sure of this. If you think you know what he was all about you're probably wrong because he was and still is, by definition, an enigma. His genius had more angles than one of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes and not one of his many albums displays the exact same side as another does. Suffice it to say that he epitomizes the phrase "one of a kind" and, sadly, we will most likely never be blessed with an artist quite like him again. He was the ultimate rebel that broke every accepted rule while somehow maintaining the utmost respect and admiration from both his peers and the general public at large. He was, indeed, bigger than life. Frank was a living, breathing icon of revolutionary music (and thought) who was taken from us much too soon. During his early 70s stage he was able to staff his personal orchestra with the very cream of the recording industry because there wasn't a musician of merit in the known world that didn't consider it an honor of the highest order to work with maestro Zappa. Therefore one is compelled to listen in awe at the stature and quality of the sounds emanating from albums like "The Grand Wazoo." Taking that factor into consideration, the astounding feat achieved by drummer Aynsley Dunbar throughout this record is even more impressive. If you've had a tendency to under-appreciate this bad boy's skills on the trap kit then this will be a real eye-opener for you. He is nothing short of flat-out amazing here and his performance alone is worth the price of admission.

At first glance the thirteen-minute title song might seem to be nothing more than a glorified jam session but if you delve a little deeper into the track and pay strict attention to its fine detail you'll be richly rewarded. "The Grand Wazoo" employs a delicious, tantalizing shuffle groove to present its airtight case and Frank's coyly underplayed wah-wah guitar lead gently guides the listener into a sort of Glenn Miller-on-acid big band attack. This introduces the central theme plus its spawn in the form of intricate melodies that'll twist your mind into loose granny knots. Tony Duran supplies a piercing bottle-neck slide guitar solo, then the horn herd takes you through some more interesting complexities before Bill Byers dazzles you with his terrific trombone work and Sal Marquez blows you away on his trumpet. While this is transpiring you'd be wise to notice the intriguing incidentals that abound as they dart in and out of the background constantly. Eventually the whole shebang dissolves into wonderful chaos until stickman Dunbar reins the misfits back in and restores order in the court of expectant Mothers. After a brief reprise of the main theme Don Preston tosses in a short but compelling mini-moog ride just before the sudden ending arrives. The undiluted joy that exudes from the musicians is contagious and won't be denied. This is the kind of tune that, if you're lucky enough to have a rag-topped automobile, is custom-made for cruisin' down the road with the stereo blasting. It's fusiony music you can feel good about sharing with the neighborhood.

"For Calvin (and his next two hitch-hikers)," however, is the kind of song that we Jazzmanian Devils can get into but most jocks, girlfriends and wives HATE so be forewarned. Its sinister feel and Zappa's opera-house- gone-mad approach to telling the sparse but obtuse storyline initially comes off as woozy hangover music but when the weird singing stops it morphs into a Miles Davis meets eclectic rock conglomeration where a distinct and dignified modern jazz sensibility rules. This kind of confection personifies the core of Frank's unique vision. The music constantly evolves and mutates in directions impossible to predict and the apparent total group involvement where every one of the 15+ members plays a pivotal part in creating the whole panorama of sound is incredible and a testimony to Zappa's immense leadership talent. Non-jazzers won't have a clue, though, and that's why, if you have nosy or annoying roommates who won't go away, you need only put this on and the pesky slackers will vacate the premises pronto. Guaranteed.

The briefest cut on the album, "Cletus Awreetus Awritus," utilizes more of a standard rock platform yet it's anything but ordinary. Following a furious beginning, keyboard guru George Duke delivers an upright acoustic piano lead (with a playful, saloon-style timbre) interspersed with hot saxophone jabs from Ernie Watts before Frank & George color the premises with some pompously sung rum-pum-pums and tra-la-las that take the number into another dimension altogether. Speaking of Mr. Duke, his wicked electric piano onslaught serves as the warm-up act for the heavy riff that characterizes the next cut, "Eat That Question." As George's Rhodes ride pins your ears back pay special notice to what Aynsley is laying down on the drums as he alternately leads and follows the flow of the instruments around him. (Aspiring drummers take note: Great ones like Dunbar possess the unselfish ability to be acutely aware of what the players around them are doing, adding timely accents and kicks to heighten the effect of their bandmates' solos.) Zappa then makes a bold entrance with his sizzling, echo- drenched guitar that drives the group to a climactic, nova-like collapse. Frank's guitar slithers out from under the melee like a snake while the band reassembles and parades a gallant gladiator movie-type theme into the fade out. Never a dull moment.

Next up is one of the biggest surprises in the entire FZ catalogue, the blissfully gorgeous "Blessed Relief." This song shows a side of this artist seldom seen in that it unashamedly paints a graceful and beautiful watercolor setting that's on a par with the best in the cool jazz genre. The way the woodwinds and brass complement each other, Sal's tastefully delicate trumpet, Duke's tranquil electric piano and Zappa's understated but poignantly naked guitarisms all contribute pure magic to this soothing piece. The final ensemble section is jazzboy heaven as it slowly slips around the bend and out of sight like a river in spring.

If all you know of Frank Zappa is the comedic (yet extremely entertaining) "Montana" or "Muffin Man" aspect or as the sarcastic master of ceremonies of "Roxy and Elsewhere" then this album will open up a whole new vista in the way you view his artistry. He was not only able to take on most any sect of music and conquer it totally; he also applied his indelible stamp on them that, in one way or another, altered them forever more. He made us reevaluate everything we thought we knew. This album shows how he did that to jazz/rock fusion.

Members reviews

The promise of the big band jazz fusion lineup that Zappa experimented with on Waka/Jawaka sees its fullest expression on The Grand Wazoo, which I think is a bit more successful than its sister album. The sound of the big band is fuller and stronger here, the compositions are stronger, and the performances are technically dazzling whilst at the same time full of life. Zappa contributes some excellent guitar soloing too, and as a whole the album is a more than worthy successor to Hot Rats. In fact, I'd say both this and Waka/Jawaka represent a welcome return to form after the much more inconsistent Flo and Eddie period, and the two albums represent Zappa's strongest work since Hot Rats; not all Zappa fans will agree, but I think it's fair to say that The Grand Wazoo and Waka/Jawaka have broader appeal (particularly to jazz fans) than the Flo and Eddie material.

Either way, this album represents an excellent return to form for Zappa, as well as providing a firm new foundation for the next version of the Mothers to build on.
Essential Jazz-Rock/Fusion from a man not usually associated with jazz. You can find jazz throughout Zappa’s discography. This album, The Grand Wazoo, may be the best example of FZ jazz. It is the follow up and companion album to Waka/Jawaka, but where that album had its flaws, The Grand Wazoo is near perfect. If you are familiar with Zappa’s music this is a must have. If you’re not, but you’re trying to have a great jazz-fusion collection, this album is also a must. My version of this album has tracks 1 and 2 switched, so it starts out with For Calvin. I have heard the other version where the title track is first, and let me tell you, my version is better. It may seem strange having For Calvin as the first track, but it makes the experience much cooler. The song is quite weird and avant-garde; just what you’d expect from Zappa. But starting off a fusion record? With lots of horns playing dissonant lines, and vocals that sound like a dying witch, it would probably scare off the casual jazz listener away. However, I have always felt that having it as the second track ruins the flow of the album. With For Calvin as the first track, the album can be seen as starting out very chaotic in usual Zappa fashion, and gradually through the album becoming jazzier and more melodic. The title track is one of Zappa’s best tunes, and contains some great improve over a shuffle beat. The song is kind of Third Stream in nature, but is totally rockin’. I enjoy how the band plays the composed sections and everyone falls into the solo sections quite nicely. What is a Frank Zappa record without a little humor? Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus is a short little pompous track, with full wind ensemble here; particularly trumpets and clarinets playing very fast lines, complemented by the drums. Eventually, a woman sings the first part of the main theme, followed by Frank himself singing the other half of the main theme, and it’s quite funny. I always think of him sitting in the studio recording it. As the album continues, one notices the fact that it’s getting jazzier. Eat That Question contains one of FZ’s best rock riffs, and one of George Duke’s best keyboard solos. Duke is one of the reasons this album is so good, as he brings a Herbie Hancock type sound to the table, making almost everything Zappa-related that he plays on, very jazzy. The album closes with the mellow Blessed Relief, which might be hinting at the trip one takes listening to this album and making it to the end. This is one of the most beautiful songs ever conceived by Zappa, with great solos by trumpet, keys, and guitar; Frank plays with that cool effect on his guitar, similar to what he used on Watermelon in Easter Hay from Joes Garage. As I said before, this album is essential listening for any fan of jazz-fusion. It’s also unique in that it has all the trademarks of a classic 70s fusion record, but with the Frank Zappa strangeness (though most of it is not so strange by his standards). Don’t let that turn you off though; your fusion collection is not complete without this album. One of the few fusion recordings that is excellent from start to finish. No solos are too long, and Frank doesn’t go on and on about politics or sexual harassment in the workplace :)

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