Live at Leeds

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John Etheridge, guitarist of Soft Machine during the group's jazzier period, put the project Zappatistas together with Steve Lodder for a festival in Newark in late 1998. The group went on to do a few more concerts, which led to this live recording from November 1999. The idea was to pay tribute to Frank Zappa's jazz repertoire. Beside Etheridge and Lodder (keyboards), the lineup includes Annie Whitehead (trombone), Ben Castle (saxophone), Paul Jayasinha (trumpet), Rob Statham (bass), Mike Bradley (drums), and Teena Lyle (percussion, vibes). Scaled down a little bit, the instrumentation is similar to what Zappa used for the 1988 tour. Add the jazz element and you get a CD that for the most part sounds like selections from Make a Jazz Noise Here. The "Harry You're a Beast" medley, "Eat That Question," "King Kong," "Big Swifty," and "Sofa No 1" are all interpreted following the 1988 arrangements, down to some scary details. The performances are good, lively, and obviously respectful of Zappa's compositions, but they lack flare and a personality of their own. Things get pretty disturbing in "I'm the Slime": Etheridge can match Zappa's guitar playing (and he takes kinky pleasure in reproducing his tone), but the singing is something else. His delivery is barely acceptable and that girl with the (uncredited) high-pitched voice gets unnerving in the end. But all these comments must be put aside for the last track. The 23-minute rendition of "The Grand Wazoo" works marvelously: the musicians finally take some liberties, stray away from the original recording, and simply give this fantastic but cruelly under-performed piece the treatment Zappa fans deserve. Live in Leeds was recorded directly from the console; sound quality is crude (the engineer even shifted to mono for a couple of minutes).

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