Grandmothers

The Eternal Question

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Fans of all things Frank Zappa-related, particularly if it involves any of his ancient former Mothers of Invention, should be happy with one development in the new millennium, that being the emergence of Jimmy Carl Black, "the Indian of the group," in a new role as the computer editing whiz of the group. The '80s and '90s were a time of struggle for the up and down, in and out collection of reprobates collectively known as the Grandmothers, with various studio sessions and aborted projects languishing in vaults hither and yon, while some material judged as possibly offensive to the thin-skinned Zappa vanished entirely. In the era of computers and CD burners we have the de-facto head Grandmother burning CDs rather than tilting back beers, and he seems to be finding plenty of good stuff in his archive. This collection presents an interesting chapter in the band's saga as it combines the elderly Mothers such as Black, keyboardist Don Preston, and reed player Bunk Gardner with much younger Zappa alumni such as Walt and Tom Fowler, Tony Morales, and Tony Duran. A conflict could immediately be sniffed out between the contrasting styles of playing, and it happened not only on stage but in the private world of band politics, where the Fowler brothers attempted a putsch that would have gotten the supposedly ornery Preston out of the band entirely. The idea of combining some of the original Mothers with younger musicians, complete with the excess energy and ferocity of youth, is not a bad one, but works better in later versions of the band that include the Italian guitarist and Zappa disciple Sandro Olivia. The best parts here are inevitably anywhere Preston gets to go off on length, such as the 28-minute "The Son of Orange County Lumber Truck," definitely one of the finer compositions from the jazz fusion genre. Some of the songs from the studio session also work well, such as Black's sleazy "Lady Queen Bee," a slightly different mix of the version of this song that appeared on a solo collection by Don Preston in the mid-'90s. Between some possibly overdone Zappa covers and tepid originals by the Fowlers complete with corny Ike Willis vocals, there is an inevitable lag in quality. The album title comes from a renaming of the hilarious ditty written by Preston, formerly known as "What Was Zappa Really Like?," and the version that is included is worth the price of the CD by itself.

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