Sunday, October 4, 2015

Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention - 1968 [1991] "The Ark"

This is a bootleg album, released by Frank Zappa without enhancement, and also available as part of the Beat the Boots! box set. It features a live performance by the Mothers of Invention in July 1968 at the Ark, a club in Boston. Apparently, the Mothers themselves were recording the show, so it appears in adequate sound quality, and it catches the Mothers as they were moving from the doo-wop sound of their Verve albums to Uncle Meat. There is an extended version of "King Kong," from the latter.

"The Ark" is by far my favorite CD from the "Beat the Boots #1" series. In fact, it is one of my favorite Zappa CDs in general, even when viewed with respect to his immense catalog. What makes this disc so wonderful is that the sound quality is excellent (remember, this was originally a bootleg) and the tunes exhibit the full splendor and diversity of the early Mothers of Invention. "Big Leg Emma" really cooks with its strong drumbeats and precise changes. Then, hilariously, Zappa tells the audience that he will play something that "will be better for you in the long run" and delves into an avant-garde classical music piece ("Some Ballet Music"). Fantastic! The Mothers also demonstrate their doo-wop skills on "Valerie" and then collectively proceed to take the house down with a rousing medley of "Uncle Meat/King Kong." In sum, the vast array of styles represented on this disc (all played with virtuosity) make this a great CD to own whether you are just getting into Zappa's music or have been a fan for decades.

I've always been wary of the Beat the Boot series; sure, they offer the "real deal," as compared with the You Can't...series, but...
Anyway, this release changed my opinion. The Ark is WONDERFUL, and as stuff by the original Mothers is hard to come by, it's a fascinating artifact. Although side one seems to be running a bit slow, it's a direct copy of the bootleg release of the same name (although, truth be told, it isn't the best copying job on earth). It's worth it all, though, for My Guitar and the other tracks that will delight your teenage ears. Zappa's stage presense at the time, the Contemptuous Band-leader, is also interesting to hear (compare this to his Roxy and Elsewhere persona).

Recorded at a venue called The Ark in Boston, ostensibly in 1968 (but some experts say 1969), this album would have attained classic status simply on the strength of being the first bootleg to be produced from a master tape stolen from Mr Zappa.
Other customer reviews frown upon the sound quality. I do not understand them. Sonically, it's as good as "board tapes" ever get. If anything lets the disc down, it's the sleeve - which omits to mention trumpeter Buzz Gardner even though he provides "the BIG solo" on the epic track that concludes the album. (Until I found out he was on the album, I presumed that solo was being played on a saxophone fed through a VCS3-type synthesizer. Well, you live and learn...)
A cynic might say `Thank God the tape was stolen before FZ had the chance to screw it up!' Because Zappa generally didn't allow us to hear unedited examples of the Mothers' lengthy improvisations, or works-in-progress that resurfaced three or four years later. But thanks to some enterprising bootlegger - and thanks to Rhino Records for releasing it legitimately - we can make up our own minds about `Some Ballet Music'. Some like it, some hate it. It combines some key themes from `The Adventures of Greggery Peccary' with a slightly different `Dance of the Just Plain Folks', scored for two woodwinds, one trumpet and two percussion. And we can all enjoy the 20-minute-plus medley of `Uncle Meat' and `King Kong' - which includes a brief Zappa/Tripp/Black massed-percussion jam and a chaotic Charles Ives-style blend of the two main melodies, as well as solos from Motorhead Sherwood, the two Gardner brothers (both magnificent), Zappa and Ian Underwood (until the tape cuts out).
Elsewhere, `Big Leg Emma' is sung by Black, the seldom-heard `Status Back Baby' is sung by Zappa (and it's in 4-4 time for some reason), Zappa explains his latest scheme for a subversive hit single, Roy Estrada adds something to `Valerie', and Zappa plays a brilliant solo on `My Guitar' (though this too gets cut off prematurely).

Tracks Listing

1. Intro (0:51)
2. Big Leg Emma (3:42)
3. Some Ballet Music (7:16)
4. Status Back Baby (5:48)
5. Valerie (3:30)
6. My Guitar (6:46)
7. Uncle Meat/King Kong (23:49)

Total Time 51:53

Recorded at The Ark, Boston (July 1968)

Line-up / Musicians

Frank Zappa / Guitar & Vocals
Roy Estrada / Bass & Vocals
Don Preston / Keyboards
Buzz Gardner / Trumpet
Ian Underwood / Alto Sax & Piano
Bunk Gardner / Tenor Sax
Motorhead Sherwood / Baritone Sax
Jimmy Carl Black / Drums
Arthur Dyer Tripp III / Drums



  2. Chiquilicuatre y ZappaOctober 6, 2015 at 3:39 AM

    many thanks