Home > Music > Frank Zappa – The Grand Wazoo (1972)

Frank Zappa – The Grand Wazoo (1972)

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Shortly before he became an over-nite sensation, Frank Zappa released this album of mostly instrumental big band jazz fusion. Compared to what came a year later, it’s definitely closer to the “jazz” side, with more improvisation and sprawling compositions built to hold layer after layer of improvisation until the entire recording is coated in jam session. There’s also “Cleetus Awreetus-Awrightus”, in case you want absolutely need a more compact to break up the album, but for all its merits, it is a clear statistical outlier. There are arguably a great many outliers on this album, but there’s more to understanding and appreciating music than just subjecting it to dimensional analysis.

Even if the approach is less tailored for Top 40 radio stations, The Grand Wazoo shares much of its DNA with the more accessible era of Zappa style radio rock that it preceded. The musicians are top notch, as always, and the looser structures give them plenty of time to show off their soloing skills. As far as I’m concerned, their continued excellence on Zappa’s recordings is more of a testament to the man’s recruiting abilities than anything. Unlike on Over-Nite Sensation, though, the ensembles that play here (different on each track) are more balanced, so I’m not sure to what extent I can say any one musician particularly stands above the others. You could easily make a case for George Duke, though, who performs keyboards and apparently demonstrated a then-unknown way of recording a Rhodes electric piano on some of the tracks here.

Deciding what to focus on besides technical proficiency, though, is unusually difficult. The Grand Wazoo, surprisingly, has its share of poppy hooks, even if a lot of them are concentrated in the introductions and vocals of its tracks, but of my admittedly limited Zappa experience, this album is probably the most arcane experience I’ve had so far. Or is it the especially dissonant and disconcerting “For Calvin (and His Next Two Hitchhikers)” predisposing me to think so? Listening to The Grand Wazoo in its entirety gives me something of a compilation vibe from how diverse it is, and in general the material here is more challenging than, for instance, Hot Rats, which is broadly in a similar style yet easier to pick up and play. Maybe I should come back to this review when I’ve listened to more contemporary jazz music.

The alternative is that I’m overreacting, and that people who are at all attuned to Zappa’s work (at least his work from the early ’70s) will most likely enjoy listening to this one as well. It is definitely not more of the same, though.

Highlights: “The Grand Wazoo”, “Cleetus Awreetus-Awrightus”, “Eat That Question”

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