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Frank Zappa

Zappa In New York

Review by Julie Knispel

The separation between live album and studio album has always been a fuzzy one when it comes to Frank Zappa. As so many of his “studio” albums were created through the use of individual instrumental tracks (or wholesale lifting of full band tracks) from live performance, it’s often difficult to tell on LP what was recorded in thew studio and what was recorded live. Add in Zappa’s penchant for playing vast swathes of new material in concert on a tour by tour basis, and the demarcation becomes even more nebulous.

Zappa in New York is, therefore, a bit of a fresh blast of air. A true live album, it was culled from a series of performances in New York City in 1976. ZINY was the first of four albums that make up the infamous Läther boxed set, which would not see release until 1996, two years after Zappa’s death. ZINY has its own set of controversies, including censored and uncensored editions, the inclusion of the homoerotic “Punky’s Whips,” and was one of the final straws in the quickly deteriorating relationship between Zappa and Warner Brothers Records.

Frank Zappa’s bands have always included musicians among the best at their particular instrument, and Zappa in New York features what is perhaps one of Zappa’s most solid touring ensembles, including Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals, Ruth Underwood on percussion and synths, the Brecker Brothers on trumpet and sax, Eddie Jobson on keys and voilin, and Patrick O’Hern on bass, among others. The 12 musicians in the band were fully able to carve out their own musical space in the often dense arrangements, and some of the most complex and difficult music on Zappa’s catalogue was performed during the run of shows immortalized on this well as some of the most overtly juvenile and puerile. Zappa in New York on CD is far more complete than any LP release. Covering 2 discs of material, the CD includes 4 tracks never released on LP, with “Punky’s Whips” a special case, as a few copies exist with the song on it (a few more copies exist with the song listed, but not included on the release). Additionally, some tracks are significantly longer than the initial LP release, either as a result of adding censored material back, or due to the technical limitations of the LP format.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
T***ies & Beer
Zappa in New York opens with a bang, with scattershot drumming and an incredibly hooky horn line which is well-nigh impossible to not hum along to. An example of Zappa’s storytelling strengths, the song relates the proceedings one dark and stormy night as the narrator has his woman and his beer taken by Ol’ Scratch himself. Terry Bozzio was the devil as far as this song is concerned (later bands would perform this song as well, but no one came close to descending the depths Bozzio did, nor were they capable of carrying the story like Bozzio), and his dialogue with Zappa in the vamping mid-section is brilliant. The CD version of this song is longer than the originally released LP version, with additional dialogue and interaction from stage to audience (interestingly, the edit on Läther includes some dialogue not included here, making a total of three different versions of the same song from the same original source).
Cruisin' For Burgers (CD Bonus Track)
The band shifts gears for track two, going from the somewhat more rock oriented “T***ies and Beer” into an extended instrumental big-band arrangement of this track from Uncle Meat. This is a perfect example of big band rock performed in a way that bands like Chicago could perhaps only dream of, with seamless integration of horns and charts with layers of complexity and intricacy. Ruth Underwood shines with some dexterous vibes playing, and Zappa’s solo here is saturated with distortion and fuzz. Michael and Randy Brecker’s horn work is excellent; joined at these shows by three other horn and winds players, they add significant organic richness and acoustic textures to the extensively electric arrangements. This song was not included on the original vinyl release.
I Promise Not to Come In Your Mouth
The original LP release of Zappa in New York had this instrumental following on from the raucous “Tittles and Beer,” and it was a very difficult, uneasy segue. The transition on CD from the lengthy “Cruisin' For Burgers” is a far more comfortable one. Quieter and more restrained, the large horn section gets an opportunity to show off with a cool jazz vibe, with synth accompaniment from Eddie Jobson. Patrick O’Hern’s bass playing bubbles under the surface of this track, which serves as a nice cool down after the extended rock workout that came before.
Punky's Whips (CD Bonus Track)
“Saturday Night Live” announcer and famous voice Don Pardo introduces the infamous “Punky’s Whips,” the story of drummer Terry Bozzio’s infatuation with Angel frontman Punky Meadows. Opening over a simple drum/bass vamp, the song alternates between full band freakouts and restrained vocal sections where Bozzio gets a chance to explain, in excruciating detail, the breadth of his lust for Meadow’s glistening hair and insolent pouting rictus. Despite the somewhat prurient lyrics, the band gets plenty of opportunity to show off some serious chops.
Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?
The main musical riff on this track is typical Zappa: complex syncopation between drum kit and vibes sets the scene for a fairly misogynistic tale of “boy meets girl, boy brings girl back to her place, girl doesn’t put out, boy leaves, finds car broken down, goes back inside and gets some.” A fairly slight track in most respects, it suffers in comparison to the epics that precede and follow it on the CD release.
The Illinois Enema Bandit
The “true story” of Michael Kenyon, a man convicted in 1975 of 6 counts of armed robbery, who had a penchant for administering enemas to his bound victims. Ray White’s bluesy vocals totally sell the song. He presents it in such an honest and deep-down emotional manner that one is more than willing to overlook the again juvenile lyrics in favor of the Chicago blues vamp. Zappa whips off some of his strongest blues soloing on this track, his SG taking on an almost horn-like tone with plenty of saturated overdrive. Bozzio and Patrick O’Hern set up a deep groove for the band to ride, and the extended instrumental workouts give Zappa and band ample opportunity to shine in more of a rock idiom.
Disc 2
I'm the Slime (CD Bonus Track)
CD 2 opens with another track not included on the original LP release of Zappa in New York. This is a fairly by the numbers rendition of the track from Over-Nite Sensation, taken up a notch through the addition of “sophisticated narration” by Don Pardo (the third of three songs he appears on; he also provides opening narration on “The Illinois Enema Bandit”). Despite the fairly faithful to the original arrangement performance, Pardo’s insistent delivery of his lines pushes this rendition up a notch in intensity, making it by far a more enjoyable listen then the more subdued studio version.
Pound for a Brown (CD Bonus Track)
“Pound for a Brown” is another performance not included on the original vinyl issue of Zappa in New York. This instrumental was originally released on 1969’s Uncle Meat album, and this version features some fantastic synth playing from Eddie Jobson over a fluid, shifting rhythm and music that verges on some of the purest prog playing in Zappa’s catalogue. This is a track to play for a person who refuses to listen to Frank Zappa as a result of overexposure to Frank’s more potty humor based vocal songs.
Manx Needs Women
Zappa in New York’s second disc is far more instrumental than the first, and the band’s instrumental workout continues on “Manx Needs Women.” Typically Zappa-esque in construction, the track is built around sheets of sound interspersed with short melodic interludes. This is multi-instrumental complexity defined.
The Black Page Drum Solo/Black Page #1
And then we have “The Black Page.” Written by Frank Zappa specifically for drummer Terry Bozzio, it is so called because of the immense number of percussion notes on the written score. As viewed on the manuscript page, the score is very nearly a page fully blackened by notes. The composition features extensive use of tuplets, including tuplets nested inside other tuplets (def: a tuplet is any consecutive group of notes with an individual value more or less than half as long as the next larger note value). It is said that Bozzio believed he was the only musician capable of performing “The Black Page;” Zappa asked drummer Vinnie Colaiuta to play it at his audition for the band, which he then did by heart.
Big Leg Emma
It’s certain the band and the audience needed a bit of a breather after the incredible “statistical density” of the instrumentals the band just performed; this is achieved through this perky little ditty released as a single in 1967. There’s plenty of opportunity for the horn section to show off some great interplay here, but the track is ultimately a bit of a throwaway if taken in context with the songs around it. It serves its purpose as a palate cleanser, and maybe offered the audience a chance to get up and boogie a little bit after sheets of sound in 21/16.
The instrumental version of “Sofa” on Zappa in New York is a horn and guitar showcase, played slow and mellow. To this reviewer’s ears, this would have been a fantastic show closer, played with tons of emotion and bringing the audience down slowly in preparation for leaving the show. This is big-band jazz-fusion at its most basic. Lou Marini and Tom Malone get an opportunity to show off some wonderful flue/piccolo harmonies on this track.
Black Page #2
This is the “Easy Teen-age New York Version” of “The Black Page,” a slightly simpler song based around the drum solo of “The Black Page.” It’s difficult, in this day and age, to consider that Zappa expected his audience to dance along with a track like this, which still features more complexity and shifting time signatures in one song than most bands presented in their entire catalogue. Set up with a simple drum/bass vamp, it soon explodes in waterfalls of sound, with enough starts and stops to make fans of King Crimson’s “Indiscipline” green with envy. This track has something to offer fans of almost any phase of Zappa’s career.
The Torture Never Stops (CD Bonus Track)
The final bonus track on the expanded CD issue of Zappa in New York, this is an extended rendition of the track from Zoot Allures. Future versions would take this song in slightly more Western directions in terms of sound and arrangement. Here in 1976, the song is still fairly fresh and new, the band feeling their way around the slow jam vibe. The main instrumental theme is insistent and very hummable, getting stuck in your brain for hours. Frank Zappa would likely tell you that he was never a particularly strong singer, but he does a great job here, showing some good flexibility. Thankfully bereft of the snarfs and synth stabs that would typify later versions, this is a performance relentless in its slower pace, stretched out to over twelve minutes.
The Purple Lagoon/Approximate
Zappa in New York closes with another extended instrumental workout, interpolating the “organized chaos” of “Approximate” (which is itself based around a sub-section of the track “Inca Roads”) with the jazz fusion of “Purple Lagoon” and musical quotes from Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk.” This composition ends up being a launching pad for most of the band to show off their significant musical chops with horn, synth, guitar and percussion solos flying out in all directions. What sounds at first to be nothing more than an unorganized melange of notes soon shows careful composition and orchestration, lifting off from nearly telepathic playing from Bozzio and O’Hearn (how did they so easily shift time without ever falling out of their locked together playing?). “The Purple Lagoon/Approximate” is an awesome example of Zappa’s compositional skills, worked into a rock idiom rather than classical.
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