Frank Zappa: Waka/Wazoo
Ryan Reed on January 18, 2023
In late 1971, when an enraged fan pushed Frank Zappa offstage at London’s Rainbow Theatre, leaving him with a grab bag of injuries, a bleak creative period could have begun. (At least, no one would have blamed him for taking a really long break.) Instead, the composer, bound to a wheelchair for nearly a year, seized the opportunity for an exhilarating reboot, emerging with a massive “electric orchestra.” dedicated to densely layered jazz-fusion. (That 20-piece band recorded two albums and played a handful of concerts, before Zappa dropped for the 10-piece Petit Wazoo tour.) -and-all portrait of that prolific era: live cuts, alternate mixes and never-before-heard takes, as well as session demos from keyboardist George Duke and Dolby Atmos versions of Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo. There are surprises everywhere: The alternate version of the barn “Big Swifty” rivals the original in progressive mayhem, with solo after solo of electric piano, drums, and screeching trumpet. Elsewhere, a heavier “Eat That Question” revolves around a cowbell-clad drum beat and funkier electric piano. But the most telling moments are the Duke tracks: raw, rock-leaning approaches to the solo jazz and soul tunes (“Love,” For Love (I Come Your Friend))” he released in the mid-’70s. Like most tag deep dives, this one is essential.