Frank Zappa. It was released in 1986 by Barking Pumpkin Records on vinyl and by Rykodisc on CD. This is Official Release #47.
All compositions were executed by Frank Zappa on the Synclavier
DMS with the exception of "St. Etienne", a guitar solo excerpted from a
live performance Zappa gave of "Drowning Witch" during a concert in Saint-Étienne, France, on his 1982 tour.
"While You Were Art II" is a Synclavier performance based on a
transcription of Zappa's improvised guitar solo on the track "While You
Were Out" from the album Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar
(1981). The unreleased original Synclavier performance was done using
only the unit's FM synthesis, while the recording found here was Zappa's
"deluxe" arrangement featuring newer samples and timbres.
"Night School" was possibly named for a late-night show that Zappa pitched to ABC; the network did not pick it up. A music video was made for the song.
"G-Spot Tornado", assumed by Zappa to be impossible to play by humans, would be performed by Ensemble Modern on the concert recording The Yellow Shark (1993).
Zappa won a 1988 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for this album.
Though Jazz from Hell is an entirely instrumental album, there is an unconfirmed report that the Fred Meyer chain of stores sold it in their Music Market department featuring an RIAA Parental Advisory sticker. This could have been the result of Zappa's feud with the Parents Music Resource Center (which had also inspired the 1985 Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention),
an objection to the use of the word "hell" in the album title, or in
reference to the track "G-Spot Tornado", describing the erogenous zone
in human anatomy commonly known as the G-Spot.
While Frank Zappa had ostensibly been "on his own" since the dissolution of the Mothers of Invention
in 1969, never before had he used the term "solo artist" as literally
as he does on the Grammy Award winning (in the "Best Rock Instrumental
Performance by an orchestra, group or soloist" category) Jazz from Hell (1986). After two decades of depending on the skills, virtuosity, and temperament of other musicians, Zappa
all but abandoned the human element in favor of the flexibility of what
he could produce with his Synclavier Digital Music System. With the
exception of the stunning closer "St. Etienne" -- which is a guitar solo
taken from a live performance of "Drowning Witch" at the Palais des
Sports in St. Etienne, France on May 28, 1982 -- the remaining seven
selections were composed, created, and executed by Zappa with help from his concurrent computer assistant Bob Rice and recording engineer Bob Stone.
Far from being simply a synthesizer, the Synclavier combined the
ability to sample and manipulate sounds before assigning them to the
various notes on a piano-type keyboard. At the time of its release, many
enthusiasts considered it a slick, emotionless effort. In retrospect,
their conclusions seem to have been a gut reaction to the methodology,
rather than the music itself. In fact, evidence to the contrary is
apparent as it brims throughout the optimistic bounding melody and
tricky time-signatures of "Night School." All the more affective is the
frenetic sonic trajectory coursing through "G-Spot Tornado."
Incidentally, Zappa would revisit the latter -- during one of his final projects -- when the Ensemble Modern worked up Ali N. Askin's arrangement for the Yellow Shark (1993). Another cut with a bit of history to it is "While You Were Art II," which is Zappa's Synclavier-rendered version of the Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar (1982) entry "While You Were Out." Speaking of guitar solos, as mentioned briefly above, "St. Etienne" is the only song on Jazz from Hell to feature a band and is a treat specifically for listeners craving a sampling of Zappa's inimitable fretwork. The six-plus minute instrumental also boats support from Steve Vai (rhythm guitar), Ray White (rhythm guitar), Tommy Mars (keyboards), Bobby Martin (keyboards), Ed Mann (percussion), as well as the prominent rhythm section of Scott Thunes (bass) and Chad Wackerman (drums). Zappa-philes should similarly note that excellent (albeit) amateur-shot footage of the number was included by Zappa on the companion Video from Hell (1987) home video.
Jazz From Hell may not be one of Frank's most popular albums and I'm
sure it's one of the lowest sellers, but it's also one of his finest.
had announced his intention of quitting the liva arena in 1982 and then
again in 1984 ( he would be tempted back in 1988 ) but by 1986 he was
composing solely on his Synclavier within the comfort of his recording
studio, and the results are amazing.
Night School and G-Spot Tornado
are among his best ever compositions, nobody else to this day writes
such odd and yet beautiful music, it's ironic to note that the title
track ( one of the weaker tracks ) won Frank a Grammy !
Probably to placate the fans of his guitar solos he choose to include one very fine ( and delicate ) solo.
This album rewards repeated listenings and and it's great insight into what made the man really tick .
On this solo digital-synth excursion, the indefatigable Zappa takes a breather from R-rated satire and battling the PMRC dragons to cook up one of his periodic classical-jazz-boogie stews. There is nothing particularly hellish about the eight pieces on the album, though it may have been a bitch to program these densely packed parcels of subdivided rhythms and Chinese-checker themes. But while most of Jazz from Hell employs now-standard Zappa compositional devices — abrupt tempo changes, harmonic broad jumps and volcanic polyphonic clusters — there is a deviant playfulness and almost affable melodic resolution about these tracks that is unique in Zappa's serious instrumental canon.
"The Beltway Bandits," for example, is a nifty piece of electronic fun, an imaginary rush-hour auto chase enacted with agitated jungle noises and a synthetic muted car horn. Even more whimsical are "Night School," a typically serpentine air underscored with rich lyric chording and lively street-corner finger popping, and the altered-states funk-up "Massaggio Galore," which sounds like Zappa's "Dancin' Fool" on Planet Claire. Make no mistake: this album is not easy listening. The complexity of a score like the extended "While You Were Art II" would confound a stadiumful of Human Leagues. Yet its sly humor and lighter tonal palette make Jazz from Hell more easily digestible, if no less demanding, than the abrasive orchestral sawing on Zappa's past concertos, like the classic Lumpy Gravy.
It would have been nice to hear Zappa tear up his digital soundscape here and there with a little more real-sound guitar. Jazz from Hell's only fuzz 'n' fusion showcase is the slow, brooding alien blues "St. Etienne," an in-concert Zappa-band recording of unspecified vintage. Nevertheless, Jazz from Hell is the Present Day Composer's most engaging and accessible serving of his singular serio-pop vision since Hot Rats. Listeners who deserted Zappa after his hard turn into scatological social protest should have no trouble putting aside their prejudices for this thirty-five-minute trip down Avant-Classical Lane, while MTV teens will be surprised to learn there's more to this old Mother than just being Dweezil's dad.
1. Night School (4:47)
2. The Beltway Bandits (3:25)
3. While You Were Art II (7:17)
4. Jazz From Hell (2:58)
5. G-Spot Tornado (3:17)
6. Damp Ankles (3:45)
7. St. Etienne (6:26) *
8. Massaggio Galore (2:31)
* Recorded 1982 at Palais des Sports, St. Etienne, France.
Total Time: 34:26
Frank Zappa – lead guitar, Synclavier, keyboards, production
On "St. Etienne":
Steve Vai – rhythm guitar
Ray White – rhythm guitar
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Bobby Martin – keyboards
Scott Thunes – bass guitar
Chad Wackerman – drums
Ed Mann – percussion