Review Summary: The crown jewel of the Zappa jazz fusion era.
As a guitarist and musician, Frank Zappa is among the best. His distinctive soloing, crooning vocals, and quirky mannerisms exist in the upper region of modern music history. As a bandleader and song-crafter in the era of early 70’s rock and jazz, there is nothing between himself and the sky – no one at all beyond him. The Grand Wazoo
, Zappa’s May 1973 LP, affirms this divine status.
Less than a year prior, Waka/Jawaka
took Zappa’s song writing capabilities to a larger scale. His progressions were polished a smidgen, his directions became clearer, and he and his band put together an excellent recording. There wasn’t anything wrong with that album; sure, the inconspicuous two songs in the middle of the album weren’t miraculous, but Waka/Jawaka
had enough quality content to stay afloat. Where does it fall behind in comparison to its brother album, then? Well, The Grand Wazoo
doesn’t have time to float… it’s too busy soaring, into jazz-rock sanctity.
The chief difference between Waka/Jawaka
and The Grand Wazoo
is the increase in band size. Over 20 musicians and vocalists contributed to the recording of this album, which proves to energise the music itself, which isn’t dissimilar to that of the previous record. The contributing artist list reads more like a jazz chamber orchestra, rather than a tight rock band line up. The crisp production, and the grand scale of the recording sessions are obvious, and as a result, The Grand Wazoo
just sounds delightful.
The strength of the album lays mostly on the shoulders of the instrumental composition. The big band jazz tendencies of the opening title track are regal; it features solos from most conceivable instruments, but never descends into musical masturbation, as the underlying grooves and progressions of the track keep it legitimate. ‘The Grand Wazoo’ is about as much fun as you’ll have with a genuine big band tune. Not to be outdone, the final two tracks live as instrumental equals with their blockbusting album-opener brother. ‘Eat That Question’ is as pure as fusion can be; George Duke’s keyboards trade off with Zappa’s guitar throughout, and… well, the result is a track thoroughly deserving of a residence on the peak of the jazz-rock mountain. ‘Blessed Relief’ is just as good, in a less explosive manner. Electric pianos and trumpets compliment a surprisingly subdued Zappa guitar appearance, in the formulation of a luxuriant eight minutes of modern music – a charmingly attractive, serious piece.
Not so serious are the second and third songs on the album. ‘For Calvin’ relieves the intensity of the opening track for the listener, but is it really necessary? Well, it may not be necessary, but this is a Frank Zappa album: you have to take the serious with the ridiculous. The saving grace of the tune is its quirky descent into a jazz/rock detonation; even at his silliest, Zappa keeps it musical, and therefore, keeps it real. ‘Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus’ is about as hilarious as a song without words can be. In particular, keep an ear out for Frank’s vocal performance near the end of the track – lovably funny subtleties. These comedic moments of madness aren’t essential, and this would be a superb record without them, but that’s exactly all it would be: an ‘album’. Not a piece of music by Frank Zappa.
Of all the jazz influenced pieces in Zappa’s early career, (meaning this, Hot Rats
, and his work with Jean-Luc Ponty), The Grand Wazoo
is surely the most definitive. To use the cliché, the melodic sections are more melodic, and the music as a whole reaches lofty heights. With his big band by his side, Frank Zappa had reached a height in jazz fusion that few would have imagined possible for him. An exemplary piece of music, by a vastly significant individual.