- With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and exceptionally quiet vinyl, this copy delivers plenty of Zappa’s Waka/Jawaka Big Band Magic
- A Top 100 Title, and deservedly so – the sound is big, rich, punchy, lively, clear and above all, ANALOG
- This copy will show you the size and power of a big band, Frank Zappa style – there is (almost*) nothing like it
- Rolling Stone raved that this Jazz Rock Fusion album contains “…some of the best material he’s done in years.” and we could not agree more
(*Other than The Grand Wazoo, which can have sound every bit as good but is not the equal of Waka/Jawaka musically.)
What an incredible album. I know of no other like it. It’s not big band, it’s not rock, it’s not jazz, it’s a unique amalgamation of all three with an overlay of some of Zappa’s idiosyncratic compositional predilections (say that three times fast) thrown in for good measure.
In our opinion it’s nothing less than Zappa’s MASTERPIECE, the summation of his talents, and a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. (We say that about a lot of records audiophiles don’t know well, but we’ve been doing it for most of our 31 years in this business and don’t see much reason to stop now.)
Most copies, especially the WB brown label reissues, are dull and smeary with little in the way of top end extension, failing pretty miserably at getting this music to come to life.
Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one. On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll — it’s all there to be heard and appreciated. If that track on this copy doesn’t make you a huge fan of Aynsley Dunbar, I can’t imagine what would. The guy had a gift.
What the best sides of Waka/Jawaka have to offer is not hard to hear:
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1972
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
The 17-plus-minute-long Big Swifty is a suite in which each section slowly, almost imperceptibly blends into the next, so that you find yourself in a completely new and different section without knowing how you got there — that is, until you go back and play the album and listen for just those transistions, which is what makes it worth playing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.
One of the many high points of Big Swifty is the amazingly innovative trumpet work of Sal Marquez. He single-handedly turns this music into a work of GENIUS. I can’t imagine a more talented player. Zappa on guitar is excellent as well. Aynsley Dunbar plays his ass off, only falling short when it comes time to do his drum solo on the title track at the end of side two. The interplay of these superb rock musicians fits nicely into the tradition of great jazz/fusion artists.
And since the drumming throughout this record is so crucial to the music itself, a copy that really gets that right is one that is very likely to get everything right.
What more can I say? If you love Zappa you need this record. If you want to expand your musical horizons and hear big band like you’ve never heard it before, this is the record for you. I’ve listened to this album literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It gets better every time I play it.
By the way, the Blue Label originals are the only way to go. I would avoid the reissues of Zappa’s albums; we’ve never heard a good one. And that includes the Classic Records reissue of Hot Rats.
What We’re Listening For on Waka/Jawaka
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitars, horns and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
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.
It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal
Rolling Stone Review
Rob Houghton / October 12, 1972
Although it doesn’t happen often, whenever Frank Zappa goes about the task of purging himself of his normal ration of acrimony, contempt, bile and phlegm, he sometimes comes forth with an album that is every bit the musical experience that he always claimed he could produce. With the exception of the astonishing work he and his musicians did on Hot Rats a couple of years ago, much of Zappa’s musical output has been too malnourished to support his artistic pretensions.
Waka/Jawaka — Hot Rats, while little more than a long delayed extension of the original Hot Rats album, is one of Zappa’s most enjoyable, less hypertense efforts, and while it may lack the tightness, the rock-based energy of its predecessor, it contains some of the best material he’s done in years.
The musicians brought in for Waka/Jawaka are not the stellar personalities that graced Hot Rats. Captain Beefheart and Sugarcane Harris are gone, replaced by newer faces that include Tony Duran on slide guitar, Sal Marquez on trumpets, and Don Preston on Moog and piano. They comprise a tight, disciplined group.
The first song is a 17-minute extravaganza called “Big Swifty,” which moves on the strength of Zappa’s guitar and Marquez’ horns through enough changes to add up to a solid modern jazz suite. It’s good, it stands up to repeated listenings, and is, along with the title cut, one of the best things on the album.
“It Just Might Be a One Shot Deal,” is good old Mothers’ music, a chaotic arrangement of acoustic, slide, Hawaiian, and pedal steel guitars, “Waka/Jawaka” rounds out the album with an 11-minute jazz improvisation.
Maybe Frank Zappa is just getting mellow for the first time in his career. Or maybe it’s just a phase. Either way, while Waka/Jawaka may lack the brilliance of Hot Rats, or the capacity for irritation that existed on some of the Mothers’ material, it’s a distinctive album.