Few recording artists with a career of any length manage to go out on a definite high, but Zappa managed to buck the trend. Towards the end of his life he supervised a programme of re-releases, put the final polish on some unreleased material and, as here, released live recordings that demonstrated the awesome machine that the Frank Zappa touring band had become by 1988.
This for me is Zappa's greatest live recording, featuring a twelve-piece big band of musicians playing out of their skins on music that only genuine virtuosos could tackle. Zappa himself joked that the fact that the instrumentalists were good wouldn't make any difference to the sort of people who would want to listen to his music, but when a band is this tight, you just have to sit up and take notice. The sax solos on "Sinister Footwear" are blistering: "jazz noises", maybe, but you don't have to be a jazz fan to love them. The brass is rampant throughout the album, but there's also plenty of space for the bass, drums and, of course, Zappa's own electric guitar to shine.
The fact that most of these tracks are instrumental means that you both gain and lose by not having Zappa's lyrics. If you're primarily interested in Zappa the satirist, this album may sound too sterile to you. If, on the other hand, you are one of the many classical and jazz fans drawn to the complexity and wit of Zappa's melodies and harmonies, this is a firm recommendation.
Zappa's reputation is on the up again, with a number of tribute bands and classical ensembles taking up the considerable challenge of exploring music that often pushes the boundaries of performability. No matter how well they do, this is one set of performances that it will be virtually impossible to emulate.