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DWEEZIL ZAPPA Return Of The Son Of... Ear Music 0205552ERE (2010)

Dweezil Zappa

OK first things first, Zappa plays Zappa isn't a tribute band OK? Well maybe, maybe not. While The Grand Mothers, The Muffin Men and Project Object all included former Zappa band members, Dweezil has been at pains to distance himself from what he has called 'a circus of Frank's former band members. But then again, aside from the magnificent presence of Ray White on this live double album, ZPZ has also included Bozzio, Vai and Murphy Brock in their initial line-ups.

Then there's the little matter of the material being interpretations of Frank's works rather than anything new. But no matter, Dweezil has surrounded himself with a wonderful band which while not quite bringing 'orchestral magnificence' to Zappa's 60 plus albums, comes pretty close with some great instrumentation, neat arrangements, superb soloing and core band interplay. And it is perhaps their ability to capture some of Frank's musical and personal idiosyncrasies and then being able to improvise on them that potentially marks a project like this as more than just a tribute band.

For the most part Dweezil leads the band with confidence, changing his tone and attack as the occasion demands and delivering some beautiful wah wah inflected solos that would make even the most reticent Zappa head smile.

And it is to Dweezil's credit that he doesn't hold back in tackling some of his Dad's most eclectic pieces, be they the Flo and Eddie road favourites such as 'Magic Fingers' - on which the reprised Flo & Eddie vocal rap sounds contrived - or the scatological libretto of 'Billy The Mountain'. Surprisingly the latter is an unlikely triumph with some new musical parts and a partial updating of the dialogue, but like the original it still drags on too long!

But 'Billy' is the closest ZPZ gets to Frank's notion of 'performance art' and a difficult piece is presented remarkably well. But back to the beginning and Dweezil opens with what Frank would have called a suitably 'nasty sounding one' over a repeated marimba figure on 'The Deathless Horsie'. It's the kind of cranked up solo from 'Shut Up & Play Your Guitar' that was a catalyst for the project's original inception.

There's a slick segue into 'Andy' with Dweezil tracing a thematic guitar motif over Joe Travers' staccato drums, topped by some excellent vocals. The band makes light of the complex arrangement and light the blue touch paper on a tour de force.

'Bamboozled By Love' swings nicely like the original before an injudicious tempo change which is subsequently rescued by some fine DZ noodling.

So far so good and with the intro theme of 'King Kong' we're into Frank's early classic compositional work. Unfortunately, any notion of a suite is sidelined by some rather cumbersomely arranged solo sections. While the original sections of 'King Kong' often veered into un-chartered territories, this extended piece loses sight of the big picture becoming mired in a series of thinly related solos. Billy Hulting's intuitive marimba playing is followed by a drifting, horrible sounding synth solo that is barely offset by Dweezil's deft use of a wah wah pedal. And just when you think Dweezil has topped the piece, the band drops down as he introduces JT Helmerich (who co-mixed the CD) on additional guitar. Zappa's dirt sounding guitar contrasts neatly with JT's long linear lines as the two briefly joust. And on it goes via a perfunctory horn-led funky section including a brief sax/drum duet and an inevitable drum solo. A case of over egging the cake with too much stodge.

Happily the first part of 'Montana' redeems things with DZ in his element. His fluid soloing later ascends to the realms of the inspirational on the climactic finish of 'Pygmy Twylyte'. And while the vocal phrasing on 'Montana' doesn't really get to grips with FZ's sense of the ridiculous, the band is cooking by now as a familiar synth swept intro leads the ensemble into 'Inca Roads'. The Travers/Griffin rhythm section anchors Dweezil's crisp solos that come bathed in echo and reverb. But then almost as an adjunct there's a modal keyboard solo. The band manages to gather up the reigns and build towards a muscular outro but it sounds like a sense of relief rather than inspiration. Individually accomplished but occasionally conceptually lacking, ZPZ make the best of a very tough task.

Essential FZ favourites such as 'The Torture Never Stops' slip by without any real feel for its original dark, dispassionate observational narrative, let alone any audience participation. In truth, without either Frank or Beefheart's tension building vocals the song drags a little despite Dweezil manfully trying to rescue the thing with some incisive note flurries. It isn't until a belated exclamatory vocal line by Ray White and some shrill girly screams that the number is set back on track. You pays your money you takes your choice.

This is indeed Zappa playing Zappa with all the musical chops you would expect, but some of the pieces are approached tentatively without any satirical or ironical colour. But hey, this is Zappa music and there's still much to enjoy, particularly the multi-instrumentalism and vocals of Scheila Gonzales, who adds fine vocals on the audience request for 'Dirty Love'.

And after the band navigates round a wobbly vocal intro on 'Zombie Woof', she blows imperious sax alongside Billy Hulting's marimba flourishes on the lighting fast opening of 'Zombie Woof'. The band glide over the fast stop-start signatures with the confidence of a well drilled road unit as DZ solos eloquently over Pete Griffin's muscular bass line.

Judged solely on moments like this FZ fans won't complain! 'Pygmy Twylyte' provides the perfect ending with a fiery guitar/horn driven intro leading to a funky feel with doubled up vocal lines that contrast superbly with Ray White's excellent phrasing. Dweezil rounds things off with the kind of extended solo as befits a project called Zappa Plays Zappa.

Given the audience reception you suspect that 'Return Of The Son Of...' is but one step along the way in keeping his dad's musical dynasty alive.


Review by Pete Feenstra



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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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