Frank Zappa – The Grand Wazoo – What to Listen For

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The Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding on the best copies. 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.

Problems?

Smear on the horn transients are always an issue on this album (and Zappa’s previous big band album, Waka/Jawaka). 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.

Reviewers

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.

Testing with/for Sibilance

We’ve known for decades how good a test sibilance is for tables, cartridges and arms. Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed in with the music, played using the highest quality, most dialed-in front ends, will keep sibilance to a minimum. VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the spit in your records.

We discuss the sibilance problems of MoFi records all the time. Have you ever read Word One about this problem elsewhere? I didn’t think so.

Audiophiles, and, shamefully, the expert audiophile reviewers who should know better, just seem to put up with these problems. Or ignore them, or — even worse — simply fail to recognize them at all.

Play around with your table setup for a few hours and you will no doubt be able to reduce the severity of the sibilance on your favorite test and demo discs. Your other records will thank you for it too.

Especially your Beatles records. Many Beatles pressings are spitty, and the MoFi Beatles pressings are REALLY spitty. Of course MoFi fans never seem to notice this fact. Critical listening skills and MoFi pressings are rarely found together. You either have one or the other.

Here are some of the other records we’ve identified with Sibliance Issues.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) 
The Grand Wazoo 

Side Two

Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus 
Eat That Question 
Blessed Relief

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.