A few years back we posted The Music Of Frank Zappa (HERE), featuring 19 diverse albums by artists from all over the world covering FZ’s music. The post started getting a little too big to manage, however, so we’ve now begun “Phase Two.” The great thing about many of these high quality tributes is that the concept of re-interpreting Zappa’s music is not far removed from what Zappa routinely did himself – re-arrange his own work based on the shifting personnel of his bands. Fans are used to hearing these songs in all sorts of arrangements, tempos and styles, so many of these renditions just seem like Zappa from yet another angle. Sure, you miss the master’s voice – both his lyrical improvisations on guitar as well as his actual monotone – but if you’re already into FZ’s material, there’s plenty here to enjoy. Especially since these artists typically apply looser, more free-wheeling standards than Frank himself. As a result, some of Zappa’s machine-like rigidity has been replaced by warmer surrounds. Click the covers for links to Amazon (if available). Virtually all are out of print and most can’t even be found from private sellers. Big thanks go out to Plop, from The Plop’s Dollops, for going to the trouble to provide almost all of these discs for us to enjoy. A tasty cross-section, indeed. Track listings are in Comments.
RICCARDO FASSI TANKIO BAND
Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa (1995)
Solid, 12-piece ensemble playing from an Italian big band that peeks into the jazzier corners of Zappa’s catalog. The band is not as overtly brassy as, say, Ed Palmero’s Big Band, and they provide a well-balanced assault that’s (generally) faithful to many of FZ’s arrangements, just add improv. Listen to the cool rendition of “Uncle Meat,” below.
BOHUSLÄN BIG BAND
Plays Zappa (2000)
A Swedish outfit that takes a bold approach to Zappa’s catalog by confronting, head-on, the biggest hurdle in covering FZ’s music… the vocals. Yeah, the music is difficult… but FZ’s vocal attitude is near impossible to replicate. Bohuslan uses a ball-busting female vocalist, live on stage, which works fine on material like “Zomby Wolf” (which Frank didn’t originally sing), but stuff like “More Trouble Every Day” suffers from the gender switch. There’s plenty of instrumental stuff here, too.
THE MUFFIN MEN
Play The Music Of Frank Zappa – Say Cheese And Thank You (1994)
The band’s debut. The sound quality sounds budget-crunched, but the playing is decent. The Muffins have steadily released albums of FZ’s music (I’m a Mulm man, myself), but this one is unique as it features 22, relatively short, pieces that race through FZ’s career at a quick clip. The vocals have German lilt. Listen to “In France,” below.
THE MUFFIN MEN
Feel The Food – The Muffin Men Play Uncle Frank Live (1998)
Recorded live, during the band’s European tours of 1993-1995. Original FZ vocalist Ike Willis appears on this one, lending authenticity to the band’s overall sound. “Bamboozled By Love.”
Insanity Sauce (1996)
I’d never heard Sheik Yerbouti before, but they can expertly approximate Zappa’s mid-to-late 70s sound with ease. The vocals are satisfying, which is high praise in Zap Trib circles, where it’s a given that no one can nail Zappa’s distinct tenor & attitude. The arrangements stray on occasion, but even tribute bands have gotta stretch sometimes – less you come off like Mark Walburg in Rock Star. “Crew Slut” is a fair vocal acid test, but the instrumentals rock, too.
Confetti Music (2001)
Another from the German Zappa contingent, Sheik Yerbouti. These guys have many other albums out saluting Zappa’s work (some are private releases), including Torture Time Now, Unverschamtheit – Volume 1, Ouch Patrol (w/ Napoleon Murphy Brock) and various contributions to the various artists Zappanale series. Hear “Carolina Hardcore Ecstacy“
Zappe Zappa (1998)
Expert realization of some of Frank’s more challenging avant and jazz work (with a little of everything else, of course). Check out the song titles to satisfy your need for tight, live renditions of difficult stuff like “The Purple Lagoon,” “Dupree’s Paradise,” “Sinister Footwear” and others. Hear “Yo Mama.”
The Music Of Frank Zappa - Absolutely Live (2001)
Also routinely referred to as Live At Leeds, Zappatistas perform a lively cross-section of FZ’s catalog, from instrumental versions of “Harry You’re A Beast” to lengthy takes on “Big Swifty” and “The Grand Wazoo” (which clocks in at nearly 23 minutes). Lots of interplay between the musicians and punctuating horns a-plenty. Listen to “Sofa No. 1.”
Eating The Astoria (2000)
The first authentic Zappa tribute band. The Grandmothers were formed in 1980, and was made up of former – many bitter – ex-Mothers, including Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston and Bunk Gardner, along with some young European blood to give the band its post-2000 kick. Like ‘em or not, give them their due, they fought the Zappa Family Trust for the right to exist and (eventually) won. According to Eugene Chadbourne, Black lost interest in the project in 2002 and Preston became the band’s leader by default. You can hear Black get his digs in early when he’s introducing the band. Hear “Sleeping In A Jar.”
THE ED PALERMO BIG BAND
Eddy Loves Frank (2008)
Former Zappa alumni, saxophonist Ed Palermo’s big band arrangements of FZ’s work just keep getting better and better. This one is from 2008 and, as usual, Ed and the boys don’t shy away from the challenging stuff, tackling “Dupree’s Paradise” and “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” alongside jazzier types like “Let’s Move To Cleveland” and “Night School.” Thanks to RobJam for posting this in Readers’ Links (HERE). Listen to “Regyptian Strut.”
THE ED PALERMO BIG BAND
Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2014)
The latest from the Ed Palermo Big Band is a double disc set, with CD1 focused completely on material from the master. Includes a lot of stuff from the late 60s, like “The Uncle Meat Variations,” “Little Umbrellas,” “The Dog Breath Variations,” “Chunga’s Revenge” and “Lumpy Gravy.” Roxy-era vocalist, Napoleon Murphy Brock, shows up for an 11 minute “Inca Roads.”
THE AURORA ORCHESTRA
BBC Proms Festival, Royal Albert Hall – July 31st, 2013 (2014)
Thanks to Roy Rocket for posting the following two BBC shows in Readers’ Link, the first featuring The Aurora Orchestra performing two numbers, “G-Spot Tornado” and a 22 minute version of “Greggery Peccary,” which is more entertaining here than I remember from Frank’s original. Excellent quality as it was broadcast on the BBC.
THE BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA, THE SOUTHBANK SINFONIA & THE LONDON VOICES
Royal Festival Hall – October 29, 2013 (2014)
Thanks again to Roy Rocket for this amazing recording of a live performance of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels. As fans know, this work was originally banned from performance in the UK, so this 2013 return is a vindication for FZ’s work, once deemed too “pornographic” for UK ears. Sanctioned by the Zappa Family Trust (daughter Diva plays one of the groupies) this is a unique orchestral recording of one of Frank’s more difficult works. The sound is great, though, fans will immediately miss the high energy shenanigans of Flo & Eddie, as this performance’s vocals are tame and “rehearsed” by comparison. Regardless… the quality is excellent, though, unfortunately, we can’t post a streaming player, since the performance is an uninterrupted hour and 40 minutes. Also includes 20 minutes of the BBC’s introduction and wrap up. Thanks Roy.