Sunday, 31 January 2016

"Hot Rats" by FRANK ZAPPA (2012/2008 Zappa CD – Bernie Grundman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"...Son Of Mrs. Green Genes..."

It's hard not to look at Christine Frka's frizzy-haired mad-as-a-dingbat-on-acid stare as she peaks over a wrecked/abandoned Beverley Hill's swimming pool on the cover of Frank Zappa's iconic Jazz-Rock album "Hot Rats" - and not smile. In some ways she summed up the adventure contained within the grooves – gonna be a little frizzled around the edges by the time you're done (Miss Christine was one of the all-girl group The GTOs - Girls Together Outrageously – another Bizarre Records act – she talked Frank into signing Alice Cooper).

After five incendiary albums with The Mothers Of Invention since 1966 (two of which were doubles) – it was time for the inevitable Solo LP proper from Frank Zappa and instead of Vocal Group pastiches and Comedy Soundtracks – Zappa went Rock in a very Jazzy way and never looked back. "Hot Rats" even hit No 9 in the UK charts in late February 1970 – his first and highest chart placing in good old Blighty (the Bizarre Records LP scraped into 173 in the USA).

His CD reissues from this period have been dogged with controversy. Having acquired the rights to own back catalogue - Zappa began remixing the masters to what many felt were sacred cows – even adding posthumous parts that weren't on the originals thereby altering their very nature (he argued he was the artist). Most notorious is the extra four minutes of music added on to the 12:53 of "The Gumbo Variations" on the 1995 Rykodisc CD reissue. Using the Zappa approved 'edit' master of the 1969 album – this BERNIE GRUNDMAN 2008 Remaster goes back to basics and yet still packs a lot of punch especially in those huge instrumental stretches within "Willie The Pimp", "Son Of Mrs. Green Genes" and the Saxophone-driven "The Gumbo Variations". Here are the 'little umbrellas'...

UK released July 2012 – "Hot Rats" by FRANK ZAPPA on Zappa Records 0238412 (Barcode 824302384121) is a straightforward transfer of the original 1969 LP onto CD (using a 2008 remaster) and plays out as follows (43:19 minutes):

1. Peaches En Regalia
2. Willie The Pimp
3. Son Of Mrs. Green Genes
4. Little Umbrellas [Side 2]
5. The Gumbo Variations
6. It Must Be A Camel
Tracks 1 to 6 are the album "Hot Rats" – released early October 1969 in the USA on Bizarre/Reprise RS 6356 and February 1970 in the UK on Reprise RSLP 6356  (re-issued July 1971 in the UK on Reprise K 44078).

Players were:
FRANK ZAPPA – Guitars, Octave Bass & Percussion
IAN UNDERWOOD – Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone & Keyboards (solo on "The Gumbo Variations")
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART – Vocals on "Willie The Pimp"
SUGAR CANE HARRIS – Violin on "Willie The Pimp" and "The Gumbo Variations"
JEAN LUC PONTY – Violin on "It Must Be A Camel"
LOWELL GEORGE – Guitar (uncredited)
MAX BENNETT – Bass on all except "Peaches En Regalia"
SHUGGIE OTIS – Bass on "Peaches En Regalia"
JOHN GUERIN – Drums on "Willie The Pimp", "Little Umbrellas" and "It Must Be A Camel"
PAUL HUMPHREY – Drums on "Son Of Mr. Green Genes" and "The Gumbo Variations"
RON SELICAO – Drums on "Peaches En Regalia"

The fold-out inlay reinstates the colour photos on the inner gatefold of the original LP and those not quite complete musician credits – but unfortunately very little else. Someone could have produced the lyrics to the only song with vocals on it – "Willie The Pimp" – or even explained about the album's intricate history on LP and CD – but alas – you barely get the BG remaster mention and that's it. Still at least the Audio is restored and wicked into the bargain...

The album opens with perhaps his most famous piece – the instrumental "Peaches En Regalia" which features the Bass playing of future Columbia Records guitar whizz Shuggie Otis. Great audio as those keyboard overdubs punch in. The mighty Captain Beefheart adds his considerable larynx to "Willie The Pimp" giving the 9:23 minutes an anchor – but what shines even more is Frank's Guitar soloing giving the piece an almost hypnotic feel as it stoner-rocks along defying all conventional wisdom as to what a Pop Song should be.

The battle between Zappa's Guitar, Sugar Cane Harris' Violin and Paul Humphrey’s extraordinary Drumming on relentless groove of "The Gumbo Variations" certainly tests the Remaster to the max and Bernie Grundman has seen to it that you can appreciate the individual contributions and crescendo all at the same time. The Piano and Flute passages on "Little Umbrellas" are fuller and the almost lounge-room vibe of the Piano and Drums on "It Must Be A Camel" is very clear - a sort of five-minute 'settle down' piece of Jazz Rock that ends the album on a mellow vibe.

The only real let down is the average presentation (sans regalia more than peaches) – otherwise here's one sizzling rodent you need in your suburban pool Mrs. Green Genes...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 245 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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