Posts Tagged ‘Ray White’

 

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a little Frank Zappa…and this year, Zappa Records and UMe are delivering once again with a frightfully entertaining new box set.

The bandleader’s New York Halloween shows were among his most anticipated as he blended his signature musical virtuosity with a heavily tongue-in-cheek dose of seasonal revelry.  The 1981 stand at the late, lamented Palladium – a once-luxurious 1927 movie palace theatre, sadly demolished in 1998 to make room for new dormitories at New York University – was particularly special to Zappa’s fans as he had curtailed the 1980 shows earlier than expected as a result of illness.  (Not to mention that there was no fall tour, and no Halloween show, in 1979.)

Halloween ’81 would be even more special, however.  Zappa had arranged for the midnight concert in front of the 3,000-capacity crowd to be recorded for both radio and television (the latter on a new channel called MTV) – reportedly the first live simulcast in cable television history.  The early show at 8 pm was filmed, too, and multimedia auteur Zappa would put that footage to good use, too, on his home video releases of The Torture Never Stops (1982) and The Dub Room Special (1983) and on the audio releases of The Dub Room Special, One Shot Deal, and the You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore series.  This new box set, however, marks the first time audio from the concerts has been released in its entirety.

For the shows, Zappa was joined by his new band consisting of three new players – Scott Thunes on bass, Chad Wackerman, on drums and Robert Martin on keyboards – plus veterans Ray White on guitar, Ed Mann on percussion and Tommy Mars on keys.  Steve Vai, affectionally referred to by Zappa as the “Little Italian Virtuoso,” appeared on his second tour as a band member.  This unit had only been on the road for a month but played with the tightness of a seasoned troupe as they ran through Zappa’s intricate melodies both new and old.  The tour supported the September 1981 release of You Are What You Is, and a number of that double album’s songs were featured including its title track, “Teen-Age Wind,” “Doreen,” “I’m A Beautiful Guy,” “Mudd Club,” “Dumb All Over,” “Suicide Chump,” and the Halloween-apropos, double entendre-laden “Goblin Girl.”

Available on October 2nd: there are 3 shows on 6 CD, more than 7 hours of Zappa, With a mask and costume, plus a 40-page booklet with rare photos from the event by John Livzey and new liner notes by touring band member Robert Martin, Vaultmeister Joe Travers and super fan-in-attendance Gary Titone who pens a remembrance of the shows. In addition, a 1CD version titled “Halloween 81: Highlights From The Palladium, New York City,” featuring performances from all three shows along with an exclusive track, “Strictly Genteel,” from the November 1st show not included on the box set.

These ended up as the final shows Zappa ever played at the Palladium and as his penultimate Halloween concerts.  He would revive the tradition just once more at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum in 1984.  Halloween 81 captures Zappa and his musical cohorts in peak form.  Both the 6-CD and 1-CD iterations arrive from Zappa Records/UMe on October 2nd and can be pre-ordered .

In 2020, one of the best things that has just come out for me is an archival release of legendary Frank Zappa concerts from New York. Exploring this third in a series of comprehensive concert-run super deluxe boxed CD sets issued by the Zappa Family Trust, Halloween ’81 has given me pause to reassess a period of Frank’s later career which I kind of overlooked, especially when it came to appreciating his touring band of that moment in time. I had some of the albums, but I didn’t get into them as much as prior release for some reason.

As a lifetime Frank Zappa fan, why I downplayed this period is a good question beyond the scope of this review (besides, you don’t need to be bored reading about my trials and tribulations… this is about Frank!). Listening to these recordings with now really fresh ears has been revelatory. I am getting to hear the material from those ’80s albums played by his great band live without a net. It is all delivered in real time with the energy that only an on-stage performance before a live audience can bring. The result is quite tremendous, I must say!

 

A detail worth noting: these shows are much less interactive than the typical Zappa Halloween show from prior years. Usually Zappa would have fairly extensive involvement with the audience but since the shows were both being broadcast via satellite on the radio and filmed for the then-new Music Television network (ie MTV), the band just stays focused and plough through the performances (in majestic fashion, I might add!).

So a song like “Teenage Wind” feels a whole lot cooler live than on the studio release. The back to back story telling of “Beauty Knows No Pain” into ‘Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” works great here. Even a comic jam like “Stevie’s Spanking” sounds “just right,” rocking harder than the version which came out on 1984’s “Them Or Us”.

The version of “Sinister Footwear II” on the midnight Halloween show is quite beautiful and epic!  “The Black Page #2” here has a nifty little reggae lift going on through out which is pretty remarkable when you stop and think about it (the song is reputedly one of the most complex of Zappa’s compositions). There are neat arrangement tweaks Frank made on Sheik Yerbouti favourites “Flakes” and “Yo Mama.” The early versions of “What’s New In Baltimore” and “Moggio” here are hypnotic.

There’s a really sweet moment toward the end the late show where Frank pays grateful homage to New York City and his appreciation for the fan’s support (remember what I said earlier about being a part of that NYC energy… it really was “a thing”).

Then they launch into a reggae version of “King Kong” (from 1968’s Uncle Meat album). And to end the show they whip out a near-epic heavy metal version of “Auld Lang Syne” — apparently Zappa had been accused of being the Guy Lombardo of Halloween!  Whammy bar guitar pyrotechnics included, no extra charge. Brilliant!

Frank Zappa, Halloween 81 (Zappa Records/UMe)

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In 1976, Frank Zappa played four historic sold-out concerts at The Palladium in New York City the week between Christmas and New Year’s. These were thrilling shows – described by band member Ruth Underwood as “theatrical, outrageous and raucously funny, but also filled with startling and gorgeous music, dating from Frank’s 1960s output to literally the moment the curtain went up”— served as the source material for the live double album “Zappa In New York”which was constructed from the best-played performances with overdubs later recorded in the studio. Originally slated for release in 1977, the album was delayed for a year due to record label censorship issues, mostly over the controversial song “Punky’s Whips,” and finally released in 1978. One of Zappa’s most beloved collections of songs, the now classic album included a sensational live version of “Sofa” alongside nine new compositions, including the complex percussion-based piece “The Black Page,” which has become infamous in the drum community as the ultimate challenge, the Devilish comedic sendup “Titties & Beer,” and the notorious aforementioned “Punky’s Whips” about Punky Meadows, the flamboyant guitarist for the band Angel.

In celebration of its eventual release in 1978, Zappa In New York will be released on March 29th via Zappa Records/UMeas a suite of expanded anniversary editions to commemorate the album’s recent 40th anniversary. Overseen by the Zappa Family Trust and produced by Ahmet Zappa and Vaultmeister Joe Travers, the expanded versions will be available as a 5CD box set, 3LP on 180-gram audiophile grade vinyl and digitally. The 5-disc collection, which will be housed in a limited-edition metal tin shaped like a NYC street manhole cover and includes a replica ticket from one of the shows, consists of the main album in its original mix, newly remastered by Bob Ludwig in 2018 and available for the first time since its debut. The four additional discs are loaded with relevant Vault nuggets and more than three hours of unreleased live performances from the NYC Palladium concerts, representing every composition played during the concerts and the best alternate performances of every tune Zappa picked for the original album, all newly mixed in 2018. To achieve the highest-level sound quality, the audio team went back to the original two-inch 24-track multi-track master tapes and transferred every reel at 96kHz 24-bit wavs.

The Zappa In New York 40th Anniversary Editions are available for pre-order now and all digital pre-orders will receive an instant download of the unreleased rarity “The Purple Lagoon/Any Kind of Pain.” Recorded on the first night of the four-night stand, the track features Zappa performing the chorus of the song “Any Kind of Pain” in the middle of “The Purple Lagoon.” What makes this so significant is that nobody knew this existed or that Zappa had the idea for this song more than a decade before it was released in 1988 on the live album Broadway The Hard Way until the Zappa Family Trust archived the tapes and made the fascinating discovery. More proof that Zappa was creating at an unmatched pace and always thinking years ahead.

“We are excited to bring you this new Deluxe version of Zappa in New York: an opportunity to re-examine and celebrate the source material of a great album while exploring the events of Frank’s life in late December 1976, Collections like these really show of the work ethic of a musical genius,” exclaims the Zappa Family Trust in the album notes.

Zappa In New York includes expanded packaging which features previously unseen live photos by Gail Zappa alongside extensive liner notes by band members Ruth Underwood and Ray White (who were part of Zappa’s band for these shows) as well as an insightful essay by Joe Travers with Australian writer Jen Jewel Brown. Underwood also contributes a solo piano version of “The Black Page” that has been newly recorded for this special edition. “‘The Black Page’ has proven to be one of Frank Zappa’s most intriguing and enduring compositions. It is performed in many kinds of venues all over the world. It is taught and studied in schools. Perhaps most exciting is that it is adaptable and lends itself to a variety of orchestrations and re-workings, as FZ himself demonstrated. I am proud that after forty years, mine is finally among them. It is my love letter to Frank and Gail,” Underwood writes in the liners.

The 3LP set, pressed at Pallas in Germany, features all-analog mastering of the original album mix, unavailable since first issued. Plus, an additional LP of select bonus content from The Vault. The digital release marks the debut of the original mix.

Photo by Gail Zappa

Zappa In New York capped off a terrific year for the ever-prolific and always-moving musician which included shows around the globe including his second Australian tour and one and only Japanese jaunt, the release of his album Zoot Allures and Grand Funk Railroad’s record Good Singin’ Good Playin, which he produced, a string of Halloween shows and a performance on “Saturday Night Live” which ended up having a profound impact on the Palladium shows. Following an on-air collaboration with SNL’s announcer Don Pardo and the show’s house band, Zappa invited them to be a part of the shows after three of the horn players so loved playing with Zappa that they asked if they could be involved. As Travers and Brown write in the illuminating liner notes: “Out of nowhere, the concept of adapting horns to the scheduled concerts became a reality. Frank was immediately swept up in the pleasure and challenge of writing and arranging parts for the existing material.”

The collection showcases some of Zappa’s most masterful guitar playing and electrifying arrangements as he leads an exceptional band featuring Ray White on vocals and guitar, Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals, Eddie Jobson on keyboard, Ruth Underwood on percussion and synthesizer, Patrick O’Hearn on bass and vocals and David Samuels on timpani and vibes. Don Pardo provided “sophisticated narration” and the brass section, featuring jazz duo the Brecker Brothers with Randy Brecker on trumpet and Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone, was rounded out by the SNL players: Lou Marini on alto sax, Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax and Tom Malone on trombone.

ZAPPA IN NEW YORK – 5CD DELUXE EDITION