Saturday, April 28, 2018

Frank Zappa - 1986 [1995] "Jazz From Hell"

Jazz from Hell is an instrumental album whose selections were all composed and recorded by 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-√Čtienne, 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.
Frank 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.

While purchasing this CD:
Just got back from LA and while I was there I went to Time Warp Records, a little record store off of Venice BL. Among the just over 80 CD's I own by Frank I hadn't replaced the "Jazz From Hell" from my lp collection. It was there so I picked it up and there was only one guy there besides the owner and another gentleman walked in just as I was about to leave. Just as I found my last purchase (McCoy Tyner - Infinity (with Michael Brecker) and I over heard the guy that had just walked in that he had been to an event with Moon Zappa the previous night as I'm walking up to the counter with Jazz From Hell, I showed to the guy talking and the owner and we all had a little laugh, :-)

Tracks Listing

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