FRANK ZAPPA — Zappa in New York (review)

FRANK ZAPPA — Zappa in New York album cover Live album · 1978 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
UMUR
"Zappa in New York" is a live double album release by US rock artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in March 1978. The album actually saw a limited release in the UK in early 1977, but it was soon withdrawn from the record stores. Warner Bros. Records who Frank Zappa had signed a distribution deal with, insisted on removing and thereby censoring the track "Punky's Whips" and also removed references made to "Punky's Whips" on the "Titties & Beer" track. This meant that a small war broke out between Warner Bros. Records and Zappa, who in his contract with the distribution company had made sure that he had complete artistic freedom. The censored March 1978 version of "Zappa in New York" was therefore released by Warner Bros. Records without the consent of Zappa. The full uncensored version of the album was re-released in 1991 by Zappa. It was originally Zappa's intention to include some of the live recordings on his 4-record box set "L'ther" release in late 1977, but the box set release was shelved as a consequence of the lawsuit between Zappa and Warner Bros. Records.

While recording of "Zoot Allures (1976)" took place Zappa began to form a core touring lineup for a world tour in 1976/1977 (the tour lasted from October 1976 to February 1977) featuring Zappa on vocals and guitars, Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals, Ray White on guitars and vocals, Eddie Jobson on keyboards, violin, and vocals, and Patrick O'Hearn on bass and vocals (Bianca Thornton was part of the lineup through November 11th 1976 on vocals and keyboards). The material featured on "Zappa in New York" were recorded in December 1976 at a series of concerts at the Palladium in New York City. The recordings feature quite a few guest/session musicians in addition to the above mentioned core lineup. Among the guests are the Brecker brothers on tenor sax, flute, and trumpet and Zappa- regular Ruth Underwood on percussion and synthesizer.

Most of the tracklist consists of tracks which had not seen a studio recording (except "Sofa" and "Big Leg Emma", and on the 1991 re-release version also "Cruisin' for Burgers", "I'm the Slime", and "The Torture Never Stops"), and in that respect "Zappa in New York" is a more interesting live release than most. The opening trio of tracks (on the 1991 version of the album "Cruisin' for Burgers" is placed as song number 2 on the tracklist) "Titties & Beer", "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth", and "Punky's Whips" (the middle one is an instrumental), are comical rock tracks with loads of sexual references, and especially "Punky's Whips", with it's homo erotic suggestions proved to be a bit too much for the censor people at Warner Bros. Records. "Titties & Beer" is a great example of how good Zappa and his band were at improvising. Most of the track is tightly structured and prepared, but when the biker protagonist (played by Zappa), and the devil (played by drummer Terry Bozzio) have their talk about signing a deal with the devil, they both improvise which is great fun (while Bozzio also keeps the beat).

Other highlights on the album are the impossible to play instrumental "Black Page #2" and the humourous dating song Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?. "The Illinois Enema Bandit" is a great heavy blues rock track, although it's a bit overlong and some people may be offended by its controversial subject matter (telling the story of the crimes and conviction of real life armed robber and sexual offender Michael Hubert Kenyon). The 16:57 minutes long "The Purple Lagoon/Aproximate" is in large part an improvisational piece, and to my ears not one of Zappa's best, although it's a very well performed mostly improvised piece of music, featuring a lot of jazz type soloing. Personally I prefer the structured "Aproximate" part of the track, but that part is only a few minutes long.

The sound production is raw, organic, and maybe most important, feels like a "real" live recording, although Zappa made many overdubs on the recordings in early 1977. Appearing here the tracks and the flow of the album can sometimes feel a bit fragmented, because the material were recorded at different shows but overall "Zappa in New York" is a good quality live release by Zappa. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.
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