Frank Zappa

Quaudiophiliac

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DVD-Audio may not be your preferred format, but here's a release that actually needs its special capabilities. There have been a number of high-profile albums that have been remixed to take advantage of Surround Sound, a case of retooling the recordings to take advantage of a new consumer format. Music consumers who began their music purchases during the digital era may not be aware that an attempt was made at "more than stereo" recordings back in the '70s, utilizing a four-channel system known as quadraphonic. Beyond being a brilliant composer and guitarist, Frank Zappa was also something of a recording pioneer as well, and as early as 1970 (!) he was making recordings in quadraphonic, and he prepared quad mixes on several of his mid-'70s albums as well. Since quad never really caught on, these recordings have never been heard properly -- until now. Vaultmeister Joe Travers unearthed a whole bunch of quad mixes that Frank Zappa himself created in the '70s, and Quaudiophiliac is the first release in a planned series to feature these recordings. It's a mixture of previously released and unreleased material, but even the previously released items will be a delight for fans. The first three tracks are from the sessions with orchestra recorded in 1975 that were used for the Orchestral Favorites album, of which only "Naval Aviation in Art" has been released. The real gem here is the previously unreleased "Rollo," which uses melody elements of the "St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast" theme and sports a wicked guitar solo (this tune was heard much later, added to the end of the live version of "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" on You Can't Do That Onstage Anymore, Vol. 1). These are followed by a very interesting embryonic version of "Watermelon in Easter Hay" performed on synth and vibes, to which Dweezil has grafted a spoken bit by Frank (this is the only tune that isn't Frank's mix). After this are the standard released versions of "Wild Love" and "Ship Ahoy," but the ambience on these mixes is enhanced, and the recording clarity is incredible.

Then comes an early version of "Chunga's Revenge," recorded in Frank's basement in March of 1970 -- it was actually recorded in quad before the format was even available commercially. This is an amazing 11-plus minute recording with just FZ on guitar, Ian Underwood on keyboards, Max Bennett on bass, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. Both the recording and the performance are superb, and the track would probably be worth the price of admission on its own, but this is followed by another unreleased performance, the all too brief "Venusian Time Bandits." This is a mid-'70s live recording with a crazy guitar sound that hasn't been heard on any official recordings. Then comes the title cut from Waka/Jawaka, an overlooked gem in the Zappa catalog from his short-lived Grand Wazoo big-band experiment. At first, it sounds like the same track, with its killer horn charts, but again, the clarity of this format makes it sound better than ever. You can hear different details in the mix, especially with regard to the rhythm guitar parts, but when the actual guitar solo starts up, the ears of serious fans will really perk up. First off, the guitar is equalized differently, for a slightly cleaner tone. Secondly, the guitar solo on the Waka/Jawaka version is edited (!), heard unedited here for the first time, and at the end of the solo, where the horns come in and double Frank's guitar part, the horns don't double and the solo just keeps going, leading into an unheard Don Preston keyboard solo! For the Zappa scholar, this is revelatory: to be able to witness the evolution of this piece from one finished form to another. The album closes with some "Basement Music," originally released on the Lost Episodes, although bits of it were heard as segues on Sheik Yerbouti. Quaudiophiliac is the beginning of a Zappa fan's dream. Finally the vaults are opening, and technology is catching up to Frank Zappa a decade after his death.

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