Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Zappa Plays Zappa at the Fox
Zappa Plays Zappa at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

She Who Must Be Obeyed is a Good Sport. I have proof.

To set the stage, a brief digression on our tastes in music. SWMBO and I both cut our musical teeth in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s, listening to the usual FM radio fare... but I also cultivated an interest in jazz, jazz fusion, and Zappaesque narrischkeit. Eventually, thanks to the influence of SWMBO’s brother Aaron, I would even add modern opera to my list of Stuff I Like To Listen To (And That Most Other People Barely Tolerate).

I’ll admit right up front that some of the Choons in my Choon Collection are not for everybody. People who tolerate - or even enjoy - older Miles Davis material like Kind of Blue are not necessarily going to want to be anywhere near Bitches Brew or On the Corner. And the music of Frank Zappa is, like caviar or single malt Scotch, an acquired taste for some. Or many.

When I try to listen to any of this stuff in the car, the Missus tries to put on a game face, but she can only go so far. Once things start getting, ahhhh, dissonant, she starts to lose it. Back to XM31, stat!

And thus it was a happy surprise when SWMBO agreed to accompany me to a concert at the Fabulous Fox Theatre last Thursday evening. Not only was it a weeknight - a school night! - the concert would test her musical patience. It was the kind of music she would grimace at were I to try to play it in the car, you see.

Opening the bill was Dweezil Zappa, playing the music of his late father. I had caught Dweezil’s “Zappa Plays Zappa” act in early 2010, but that was at the Variety Playhouse - a considerably more funky and intimate venue than the huge Moorish Revival Fox. This was the Big Time.

The main act was Return to Forever, one of the seminal jazz fusion bands of the early 1970’s. I had liked RTF well enough back in the day and was curious as to whether the music - and the musicians - had aged well. This incarnation of the band lacked Al DiMeola, but it still had Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White, core members from back in the beginning... all of whom, it should be mentioned, had played on Miles Davis’s classic Bitches Brew.

It should also be mentioned that Bitches Brew is one of my favorite jazz albums, while simultaneously being one of SWMBO’s least favorite.

The newest member of the RTF crew was jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, another beloved artist from the Olden Days. Ponty, who had carved out a career for himself as the pioneer of electric jazz violin, had performed with Frank Zappa’s band, with Elton John, and with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He was, in a sense, the musical connection between Return to Forever and Zappa Plays Zappa... and his presence on the bill was what impelled me to buy the ducats.

It was a risky purchase. My original plan was to take the Mistress of Sarcasm to the show, knowing the Missus’s aversion to certain things Zappaesque and/or remotely smacking of Miles Davis. But the Mistress was out of town.

Happily, SWMBO agreed (albeit a bit reluctantly - it was a school night, after all) to accompany me.

Dweezil and his band play “Village of the Sun” and “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” in a clip taken from a 2008 show. Steve Vai and Napoleon Murphy Brock, in this video, were not present at our show, alas... but Sheila Gonzales, the sax player, was. NB: “Echidna’s Arf” starts at the 3:25 mark. For the rest of the song, click here.

The show itself was remarkable. Dweezil and his crew played flawless renditions of the Olde Classics - nobody else has a sound quite like it - and Return to Forever played as tightly as they ever did, with Clarke thumping away at his bass and Corea pounding the keyboard with his signature Latin rhythms. Ponty’s violin soared... and SWMBO was a good sport throughout, never once asking that we change the station.


K-nine said...

Not quite on topic, there is a wonderful beer type beverage called bitch's brew (has miles on the label). It's high alcohol content, dark and rich. I highly suggest it.

Ed said...

I've learned, over years of listening, Zappa's music works best once you learn to ignore any lyrics and just listen to Frank play.

Anonymous said...

Napoleon Murphy Brock. Holy Xmas. I'd give both nuts to homeboy in exchange for photos and a bootleg of any version of any Zappa arrangement he appeared on, ever. He was on all of the albums that were deemed important by me.

Even sans Mr. Brock, you, sir.....are lucky. Not to mention Return To Forever. Holy moly. Stanley Clarke? Are you kidding me?

See you in Palmdale, perhaps?

Arf, arf, arf.

Gotta go dig out my 30 year old Barking Pumpkin Records tee shirt now.

Elisson said...

@Andy - My daughters and I saw Napoleon Murphy Brock back in 2003 at a Project/Object concert. After the show, we spent a good deal of time hanging out and talking about those days of Zappa's "complex music." Elder Daughter was quite taken with Mr. Brock - she still calls him "Uncle Nappy" - and I have his business card.

Saw him with P/O again a couple of years later. Talent-wise, whatever he had back in the day, he still has it.