Sunday, June 9, 2013

Extreme Zappa

By David Luhrssen
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  Some of Frank Zappa's music on the 1974 TV concert special, "A Token of his Extreme" (out on DVD), picks up on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew jazz-rock fusion breakthrough. Except: Davis knew about rock and Zappa knew how to rock. Looked at another way: at his peak years in the '70s, Zappa was a composer-arranger with the ambition of Duke Ellington and a comedian with the ear of Spike Jones.

"A Token of his Extreme" represents Zappa at a high level, boldly orchestrating the timbers and textures of a rock lineup whose percussive arsenal included vibraphones and mallet percussion as well as the usual drum kit, and injecting strong doses of droll comedy. "Montana" was a dry take down of late '60s country-counterculture fantasies, sung by Zappa in the profondo serious voice of an old-time television announcer. He was also a deft guitarist, tearing off solos that explored the tonal possibilities of high decibel electricity while commenting on the melodic themes.

The occasional strobe visuals are cheesy and the claymation sequences are cute, but bottom line: close your eyes and listen to the music. There's great stuff here.

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