Recent listening, current

Saturday, May 25, 2013

106. Frank Zappa / Hot Rats (1969)

Fusion, like the avant-garde, is a thing that everyone approaches from a different angle. Hot Rats is way off the typical fusion track, if you follow the example set by those who left Miles Davis' electric groups. But Frank wasn't moving in those circles. When he made Hot Rats, as ever, he was following his own muse. On the surface, Hot Rats takes the path of a hard rock band, emphasizing the "rock" half of the jazz-rock equation. It is filled out with intricate arrangements played on various reeds, electric guitar, electric violin, percussion, and keyboards. Most of the solos are blues-based guitar workouts or feedback-laden electric violin riffing by Sugarcane Harris (see "Willie the Pimp," "Gumbo Variations"). On the other hand, it also features quirky, composed pieces whose tight arrangements are closer to a synthesis of jazz and classical elements than they are to any mainstream American rock and roll from 1970. Listeners of European experimental music from the same time period, or Rock in Opposition groups like Henry Cow should have no trouble appreciating such pieces. "It Must Be a Camel" and "Peaches En Regalia" are notable in this regard, likewise the horn charts for "Son of Mr. Green Genes," which remained a live staple for years to come. Zappa was also a DIY innovator in the studio. If he didn't have the equipment he wanted, then he invented it, and he was endlessly creative at the mixing desk. So the aurally warm texture of Hot Rats was created with a forest of meticulous overdubs and tape manipulation techniques that Zappa pioneered on his own. Are you new to Frank Zappa? Hot Rats is a good entry point due to its presentation of several characteristics common to many pieces in the FZ oeuvre. It's also very good for rock audiences and toe dippers because it is listenable, contains none of Zappa's lyrics (which range from funny, to off-putting, to complete bullshit, depending on how they strike you), and is also widely available on CD format.

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