FRANK ZAPPA – ” Roxy By Proxy “

Posted: December 9, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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“Roxy & Elsewhere” was one of the great albums of the 70s, one of the few jazz rock albums of that era that could match the ex Miles Davis bands of the time ( Mahavishnu, Weather Report, RTF, Mwandishi etc) and only Jeff Beck ( Wired etc) and King Crimson (Great Deceiver etc) were on a par in the rock field.

“Roxy by Proxy” is a collection of outtakes produced by Frank Zappa in 1987. As Ruth Underwood makes perfectly clear in the liner notes these are not the finished article and would not have been released by Frank. She was a band member so should know. The sound is very hard & digital as befits 1987 technology.

The 2015 Soundtrack from “Roxy the Movie” is far superior in every way. Mixed by Bruce Botnick of Doors fame this is a better selection of tracks, as good as the original album, but the sound is a serious improvement on previous version.

I approached this album with trepidation. Like many Zappa fans, I particularly like Roxy & Elsewhere, so I was wondering if this would be a rip-off, with Gail Zappa wanting us to buy only slightly tweaked versions of the same old songs. But no, I was blown away by the brilliance of the performance.

Basically the CD gives us one whole gig at the Roxy, from which a few of the tracks on R&E were taken and polished, overdubbed and remixed, so what we get is the performance as Frank would have heard it, centre-stage, through the monitors. And the audience, presumably. As a warts-‘n’-all, fly-by-the-seat-of-yer-pants performance, it’s utterly brilliant, a fabulous and even exciting addition to Frank’s live catalogue.
What makes the listening experience even better is Ruth Underwood’s effusive commentary in the booklet. Many non-musicians won’t get much from it, but for those who know what (for instance) a G2-chord is, it’s a fascinating insight into the wild and nutty life of a Zappa band member. I can see that, when you stepped onstage with Frank, you learned to expect the unexpected, and you had to have the imagination and instrumental chops to go with it, and Ruth had both.

Glad I purchased this disc, different track list to the original “Roxy & Elsewhere” album and those that are repeated from the earlier disc are all different versions. The recording quality is not so good here, but in some ways that makes this more enjoyable as it sounds much more ‘intimate’ if that makes any sense, it feels like you are listening to a recording you may have made yourself at the concert. Having said that, don’t get the impression this is poor quality, far from it, just a little less ‘polished’ than the possibly overly cleaned up “Roxy & Elsewhere”. The band, (in my opinion this is the best line up Zappa ever had), are really tight and obviously very well rehearsed, and most importantly, sound as though they are thoroughly enjoying themselves. There are a few instances of bum notes and bad sections of recording, but it is, as stated by other reviewers, a direct recording with no overdubs or serious studio work afterwards. Maybe not a good choice if you are not familiar with Zappa’s work, but if you already have some Zappa in your collection then I would definitely recommend this disc.

Long considered to be a Holy Grail period by Zappa aficionados, “The Roxy Performances” are the super-duper definitive item (portions of the evenings have previously been available on the albums “Roxy And Elsewhere” (1974) and “Roxy By Proxy” (2014), with special mention also for “Roxy: The Movie” (2015)). Co-producer of the project, Ahmet Zappa, executor of the Zappa Family Trust, describes it perfectly: “This is one of my favorite FZ line-ups ever. This box contains some of the best nights of music Los Angeles has ever seen with their ears at a historic venue. Hold on to your hotdogs people. This box is the be-all-and-end-all. This is it. This is all of it. It’s time to gets your rocks off for The Roxy.

It was December 9th-10th, 1973 when Frank Zappa and his celebrated cohorts – many of them fresh from the “Over-Nite Sensation” sessions – presented their lengthy new stage show, having rehearsed on December 8th for a film shoot/soundcheck. Not only does The Roxy Performances showcase both nights’ early and late shows, it offers generous behind-closed-doors material: a private, invite-only Bolic Studios Recording Session – held in Ike Turner’s Inglewood set-up – plus an unreleased track called “That Arrogant Dick Nixon” (the hapless Pres features quite a bit on these recordings).

Musically and sonically it’s a mind blast. The five shows feature songs from 1969 to 1973, with many cuts culled from “Uncle Meat, Hot Rats, Waka/Jawaka”, and “Over-Nite Sensation”. There are also stacks of live goodies that capture Frank and his Mothers in their pomp: we’re talking favourites the likes of “Village Of The Sun,” “Pygmy Twylyte,” the music for monster movies “Cheepnis” and “Penguin In Bondage.”

The interplay between Zappa and his players is astonishing. He revels in their virtuosity and gives them free rein. They repay him in full. Keyboardist George Duke, one of Frank’s all-time favourite collaborators, adds so much jazz-funk to the mix that it explodes with – what else? – invention. Bassist Tom Fowler holds it down while brother Bruce Fowler brasses it right up on trombone. Don Preston’s synths are way ahead of the game – and that also goes for percussionist Ruth Underwood. Listening to her keep up with – and ahead of – the pack is astonishing in itself.

With a band that good, it’s no wonder Zappa took off for the stratosphere on the complex instrumentals “Echidna’s Arf (Of You),” “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” and “Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen’s Church),” all of which display Zappa’s fabulous chops as he peels off some ridiculously great solos. Check the intricacy of “Inca Roads” and the associated “RDNZL,” which appear to lampoon the overly serious nature of many progressive rock groups while out-maneuvering them at their own game.

Contemporary press reviews of this hometown LA spectacular included the Los Angeles Times, who praised The Mothers’ sensational performances, while the Los Angeles Herald Examiner fingered Frank as “the counter-culture’s John Cage.”

The illustrious box set is enhanced by a 49-page booklet crammed with relevant photographic material, illuminating liner notes from fellow-producer, and Vaultmeister, Joe Travers, and nostalgic first-hand accounts from family friend, the Australian writer Jen Jewel Brown. The Blasters’ Dave Alvin also contributes, warmly recalling, “The Roxy Mothers were a grand combination of high art, low art, masterful technique and razor-sharp humour with a touch of wild abandon.”

Fair enough. Now it’s surely time to pursue the mysterious towels of destiny, enter “Dupree’s Paradise” and get into full jive mode for a trip through the “Cosmik Debris.”

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