Frank Zappa

Vaulternative Records, 2003


REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk


In 1978, Frank Zappa played five nights in a row in New York leading up to Halloween, some elements of which have been released before. Each of these concerts was recorded to 24-track analog tape, and is thus in a perfect position to be mixed into stunningly crisp, high quality sound. This disc is the first release of DVD-Audio by the Zappa Family Trust, it's a music-lovers selection from a series of concerts, and it's been painstakingly remixed to take full advantage of a 5.1 system.

This is a live recording, and as such it is mixed differently from the re-releases of studio material. In particular, the listener is made to feel as if he is actually *at* the concert, facing the stage, with the audience behind and surrounding. With closed eyes, I felt as though I could point at each member of the band in turn! It's so clear, in fact, that the rear channels even give off a feeling of being in an arena, with echoes and ambient noise. The two-channel downmixes feel very much like a standard Zappa live album.

The disc starts out with some crowd noise, and then moves right into a blistering, amazingly crisp guitar solo. The tone is excellent, and the composition is spot on. By the third track we are expecting nothing but the best; but regrettably, "Dancing Fool" doesn't live up to the expectation. It's a solid cut, but it doesn't fit with the quality preceding it. "Easy Meat" brings us another soaring, crystal solo, and then slides into a masterfully edited together montage of two separate nights' worth of "Magic Fingers."my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Some of the compositions, as others have pointed out, feel as though they have not aged well. Perhaps the plethora of Zappa releases has worn out their welcome a bit, but "Stink-Foot" and "Dinah-Moe Humm" are not particularly engaging -- while they certainly transplant the listener to the concert, they are not in and of themselves worthy additions to the disc.

However, "Camarillo Brillo" and "Conehead" feel remarkably fresh, the latter presumably from Frank's recent (and included, in the extras) appearance on Saturday Night Live.

A few words should be made of the track "Zeets," which is quite an achievement. It is a drum solo with some rather interesting mixes that I won't spoil for you here; however, upon listening, I began to ask myself -- is this an engaging drum solo? I confess I found that it was not. The innovative mixing in 5.1 is neat, but I can't say the music kept my interest. The concluding track of the album is the impressively lengthy "Black Napkins (The Deathless Horsie)" which is, speaking quite frankly, an beautiful performance. This piece of music is alone worth the purchase price -- the brilliant vamping underneath an astounding solo, the solo itself, and the sound quality all conspire to produce a fitting album closer.

This album is an experience. It is, as the liner notes suggest, a transporting experience, 1.21 Jigawatts in a plastic jewel case. The mixing is extraordinary, and it even sounds good in just two-channel stereo, and is thus accessible to anyone with a computer or set-top DVD player. A few missteps in the choices are, it seems, a necessary evil -- picking concerts favorites is rather a foregone conclusion when trying to represent the concert experience. Despite this, the album overcomes and becomes quite possibly the most satisfying posthumously compiled release to come from the Zappa Family Trust.

Before I close, a few points should be made about the DVD-Audio format, and the nature of this particular mix. DVD-Audio is one of two competing standards for next-generation music storage, and typically the discs are composed of at least two audio layers -- the DVD-Audio layer, which is only playable on certain, enabled players, and a normal DVD mix, typically in DTS 5.1, which is of slightly (very slightly) lower quality, and in a different encoding style. This particular disc includes a DVD-A track, a DTS 5.1 track and a 2-channel stereo. It is playable on any DVD player, but obviously you will hear the best sound if your player is capable of decoding either DVD-A or DTS, and if you have a five-channel setup (front, left front, right front, left rear, right rear, and subwoofer.)

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2003 Matthew Turk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vaulternative Records, and is used for informational purposes only.