Review Summary: A big collection of Frank's improvisational art.Official Release #31 #32 #33
As well as being an influential composer, Frank Zappa was known, although perhaps to a lesser extent, as a great guitarist. Here it is a 3-CD's worth of nothing but all instrumental, improvised guitar solos, most of them recorded live between 1979-81, with really solid support from his backing bands; originally released as three separate LP's and later as a box-set. This trilogy consists in Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar
; Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar Some More
; and Return of the Son of Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar
. Depending on your attitude towards lengthy guitar improv in general, you'll love this one or despise the living daylights out of it.
The best thing about Frank as a guitarist is that he doesn't repeat himself much, if at all. There's no other guitar player alive able develop a solo the way Zappa could. The lead guitar on this album is really the focus, but listen carefully and you'll really dig the rhythm section a lot. There are some really nice and well composed drumming parts and bass sections along with keyboarding. Most of the time he solos over a static harmonic backdrop, or as Zappa himself liked to call it an "harmonic climate" usually consisting of no more than two chords played over and over. Above this "harmonic climate" Zappa improvises his sometimes demonic, sometimes very beautiful solos which are generally modal and exploit the harmonic ambiguities of the amp. For instance, the solos in each of the title tracks, from the three albums, come from performances of 'Inca Roads', yet each of them has its own personality and development. With all the tracks in general, the solos are clearly intended to be melodic and interesting and entertaining, never excessively drenched in feedback and never going into atonal mode.
Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar
: Opening with 'five-five-FIVE', named because one of the signature features of the song is the use of two bars of 5/4 and one bar of 5/8, in a flurry of ascending eastern scales. The title track is a furious take with otherworldly drums provided by Vinnie Colaiuta. 'Treacherous Cretins', an amazing beautiful solo over a "quasi-reggae" riff, is one of my all-time favorite Zappa's improv. Meanwhile, Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar Some More
starts off well enough with 'Variation on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression', a take from 'City of Tiny Lights'; there is some cool guitar playing here and the track seems to flow nicely for me. On 'Gee I like Your Pants', I do like the fretboard pick tapping licks, not a common guitar technique at the time. Closing this second part is 'Pink Napkins', a jazzy version of 'Black Napkins', it clearly shows the Wes Montgomery
's influence on Zappa.
In the third and final part, Return of the Son of Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar
, the title track is a great example of Zappa's ability to rework a song or solo. There were even points in the song where I ended up focusing a bit more on Vinnie Colaiuta's drum work, which of course serves to highlight the excellent sense of band dynamics I pointed out earlier. 'Stucco Homes' was definitely the stand out piece of 'Return of the Son...', Frank really bares his soul on this song. Delicate playing, with many well executed phrasings add up to a transcendental experience. I was so immersed in the dynamics, the emotions and the guitar playing in this song, I barely realized the track was indeed quite lengthy. 'Canard Du Jour', the real odd duck of the album, this one features Zappa on bouzouki, which for those wondering is a long necked balkan folk string instrument, and Jean-Luc Ponty
on baritone violin.
All in all, this is a classic release from Zappa; a good effort to teach how to play a guitar, to show Zappa´s rhythm complexity and band involvement, and to reveal some inspiring instrumental interludes from rock 'n' roll to jazz. However, if you do not like guitar oriented music this is certainly not the album for you. Having said that, there is a good amount of variety thrown in that keeps the album fun and moving smoothly, something which I find lacking in certain guitar releases. Any Zappa fan would surely find something to like on this album, but if you're new to Zappa's world, I don't advise you to start with this album.