on 13 April 2013
Bear with me on this review; I will get to the actual album but, given Zappa had a few different and distinct strings to his musical bow (so to speak) I want to "contextualise" it first!
As I've got older I find that, not only have I run out of patience with Zappa's scatological side but I've begun to find it down right irritating. No Frank, I don't find it offensive, it's worse than that, I find it boring! They say the greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince us he doesn't exist. Well! The side of liberalism typified in the sixties and seventies-counter culture, which dictated that if you weren't comfortable screwing in the street you were, at best, repressed and, at worst, dishonest,- seems to me to have allowed a number of mistakes to occur: Frank can insist all he likes he was just a reporter, writting about what he saw, but the obvious obsessional relish he took in his writing about sexual mores has lead me to conlude that he actually didn't like women very much.
I was commenting to a friend recently whilst watching the scene with the naked female motorcycle rider in "Vanishing Point" that it was "interesting" that the ideas of countercultural Women's Liberation in the Sixties and Seventies suited men down to the ground. In this respect, and in comparison to pieces from this era such as Crosby's "Triad" (a great song but how about that for a piece of self serving nonsense?)and the like, which tended to romantisise male lust in order that it's aims be achieved, Zappa was at least more honest. However, at this remove, and stripped of the polemic of the "Age of Aquarius" this "honesty" just sounds like what I believe it to have been: puerile personal obsessions aired for the public.
I must make it clear, I don't believe myself to be a prude and I believe any one who could accuse me of being as such for rubbishing this particular aspect of Zappa's ouvre would be someone similar to the person who mocks you as not having a sense of humour because you haven't laughed at the terrible joke they've just told. This aspect of Zappa strikes me as having something akin with the British comedies of the late sixties and early seventies: the Carry On films of that era, On The Buses (promoting the idea that Reg Varney would be attractive to twenty year olds! UGH!), the Confessions films etc. The era's obsession with sex has, (particularly now, post Jimmy Saville) passed from quaint into sleazy and grubby. Zappa was very probably a genius but, like everyone, he had his flaws. You may expect me at this point to say Zappa's flaw was his sexual predilictions or his attitude to women but no! Whatever those predilictions and attitudes were (and as much as I may or may not agree with them)they were his predilictions and attitudes and this is just the point: to believe that these topics may be of any interest to anyone other than himself may, on one occassion,(just perhaps) be of some humourous value but twenty five years worth of it?? Come on! (particularly with the work rate and subsequent output Zappa had).
So... this brings me onto this album here (told you I'd get there!). I believe Zappa to truly have been a musical genius. If, like me, you find his scatology gets in the way of enjoying his music, trust me, there's plenty of his music left once you get rid of that part of his output. Albums like "Shut Up n Play Yr Guitar", "Uncle Meat", "Lumpy Gravy", "Burnt Weeny Sandwich", "Sleep Dirt" (2012 edition), "Waka Jawaka", "The Grand Wazoo" are great (largely) instrumental albums that defy strict catagorisation and should grace any serious music collection. There are, of course, "vocal based" albums that are excellent by Zappa also: "Bongo Fury", "Ship Arriving Too Late...", and large parts of "Sheik Yr Bouti" and "You Are What You Is" amongst certain select others. (N.B: I am aware that Frank's scatological side is in evidence in many places on these "vocal based" albums I've arbitarily listed here. I feel there is a distinction to be made however between songs such as "Broken Hearts..." and "Bobby Brown" for example - which have obviously been worked on and have very clear humourous intent - and songs like "Crew Slut" which seem merely nasty and puerile for puerile sake. It is material such as this last number mentioned here which I am criticising above). "Make a Jazz Noise Here" does have vocal sections but these are fairly limited with the instrumental sections being the central raison d'etre of this release.
And, by and large, it is marvelous!
A lot of Zappa albums feel like bit works of a larger whole: "Ship arriving..." and "Mothers of Prevention" sound like the same album for instance as does "Sheik..." and "You are...". Sometimes this sonic or thematic connection may be on releases years apart resulting in arbitary groupings of releases none dependent upon chronolgy but rather on sound and theme / approach. What is distinct about "Make a Jazz...", to my ear, is I can't really place it in any of the pre-existing "groupings" Zappa had developed over the previous twenty five years. Yes, it's a live album and he'd done these prior. Yes, it's largely instrumental and he'd done this prior.... but there's something I can't quite put my finger on here. Zappa was always a very poor self editor in my opinion (which was, in part, why he released so many albums) but this album feels, by and large (there is still bits of excess / self indulgence) trimmed of fat; this is not something I would normally expect Zappa to do. Even the vocal parts and chatter is kept to a minimum. So, if you're looking for scatology, this is not the album for you. I think that that aspect of Zappa's work will recede as time passes (although I'm sure fourteen year old boys will always like it!). If, on the other hand, you are interested in Zappa the musician then this is one of the albums you must own by him. It cannot be stressed enough that he was almost entirely unique in his approach to composing, arranging and producing music and it is this that will be his musical legacy. Although not perfect to my ear, a great example of his unique talent can be found on this record. It's just a pity he left so much chaff to dig through to find the wheat! Buy!!!!!