- KILLER sound from start to finish: Triple Plus on side two, nearly that good (A++ to A+++) on side one
- DEMO DISC QUALITY – full-bodied, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with practically zero smear on the horns (nice!
- The Tubey Magical keyboards found on the title cut are really something to hear, especially on this copy
- The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free)
Wow – big, present and clear, with lots of lovely studio space, yet full-bodied. These sides about as right as any we’ve ever heard.
As noted above, the Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding here. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me.
A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.
Areas to Watch
Smear on the horn transients are often a problem on this album (and Zappa’s previous big band album, Waka/Jawaka).
Our better copies will of course have the least amount of smear, or practically none when it comes to shootout winning sides (or something close to them) such as these.
After that we would say a lack of top end is the other most common shortcoming we hear. To find a copy that’s not dull and smeary is no mean feat.
The vocals on For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) are usually slightly spitty. The best copies keep the spit under control.
Blue Labels and Reissues
The Blue Label originals are dramatically better than the later Warner Brother reissues. I would avoid any reissues of Zappa’s albums; we’ve never heard a good one. And that includes the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissue of Hot Rats.
It’s practically impossible to find clean, quiet, good sounding copies of The Grand Wazoo these days, which is why you haven’t seen very many copies hit the site over the years. Our last big shootout was all the way back in 2012, and that’s a long time considering that our more popular albums get shot out two and three times a year nowadays.
Not Zappa’s; he’s too hard to find and too expensive when you do.
The reviewers at the All Music Guide actually think this is a better album than Waka Jawaka, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Waka/ Jawaka is Zappa’s masterpiece. This, the followup, is certainly an excellent Zappa record. We love his music and look forward to doing shootouts for his albums whenever we can find enough copies to make it possible. These days that’s not very often.
For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers)
The Grand Wazoo
Eat That Question
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
Like its immediate predecessor, Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo was a largely instrumental jazz rock album recorded during Frank Zappa’s convalescence from injuries sustained after being pushed off a concert stage.
While Zappa contributes some guitar solos and occasional vocals, the focus is more on his skills as a composer and arranger. Most of the five selections supposedly form a musical representation of a story told in the liner notes about two warring musical factions, but the bottom line is that, overall, the compositions here are more memorably melodic and consistently engaging than Waka/Jawaka.
The instrumentation is somewhat unique in the Zappa catalog as well, with the band more of a chamber jazz orchestra than a compact rock unit; over 20 musicians and vocalists contribute to the record.
While Hot Rats is still the peak of Zappa’s jazz-rock fusion efforts, The Grand Wazoo comes close, and it’s essential for anyone interested in Zappa’s instrumental works.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.