Not too long after the concerts captured on Swiss Cheese / Fire and Just Another Band From L.A., the Flo and Eddie band played a show in London that would turn out to be their last. An idiot "fan" came out of the audience and pushed Zappa into the orchestra pit because he thought Frank was coming on to his girlfriend. FZ spent several months in a wheelchair, and the Mothers were disbanded as the members sought employment elsewhere.
The setback didn't stop Zappa from writing music though. During this time he created two fantastic big-band jazz albums that are favorites amongst many fans. The first was Waka / Jawaka, which features the usual rock band instrumental line-up enhanced by trumpet, piccolo, flute, clarinet, sax and other instruments. There weren't many players on this album (compared to the next one), but Frank still managed to get a "big band" sound from them.
This disc was sort of a sequel to Hot Rats, and to make sure no one missed that point, the cover art features a sink with "Hot" written on one faucet handle and "Rats" on the other. In fact, some fans even refer to this album as "Hot Rats 2". The music doesn't really sound too much like the HR album though. This disc is closer to straight jazz, with a more open, relaxed, blowing atmosphere to it. The next album, The Grand Wazoo would also be more similar to this than to HR.
Waka begins with the massive instrumental Big Swifty, a beautiful, flowing track full of solos. Next comes Your Mouth, a sort of offbeat blues tune, with lyrics about a guy who wants to shoot his old lady down for cheating and lying. Some people find these lyrics very offensive, but they just seem like typical blues lyrics (maybe just a bit more extreme) to me.
It Just Might Be a One Shot Deal is another vocal track with lyrics that voice the philosophy that you should have fun while you can, because you never know when your time is going to run out. The music is more bluegrass than jazz, with a great little slide-guitar solo in the middle. (I got a fairly brisk email from someone named Reid Whitton, who informed me that my comparison of One Shot to bluegrass was "a very poor analogy", and that it's a pedal-steel guitar solo, not a slide guitar solo. Admittedly, my knowledge of country music in general, and bluegrass specifically, is fairly weak, so I apologize to any bluegrass fans I've offended with my description). Zappa is credited with playing "electric springs" on this track (they're the weird little "boing" noise you can hear at two spots during the song).
The disc ends with the title track, another beautiful, jazzy instrumental full of tasty solos from all involved. It deserves more analysis than I can provide, so I'll leave that to more knowledgable jazz reviewers.
My only complaint about this album is that it's so short - they should have put this one and The Grand Wazoo on one CD like they did with the Money/Lumpy and Apostrophe/Overnight two-fer CDs. Then again, considering how crappy those CDs sounded, maybe it's a good thing these discs remained separate. Anyway, if you're a fan of big band jazz with rock elements, you should definitely get both albums.
review by Bob Eichler — 5-6-05
1. Big Swifty (17:23)
2. Your Mouth (3:12)
3. It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal (4:16)
4. Waka/Jawaka (11:18)
Total Time: 36:08
- Frank Zappa / guitar (acoustic), guitar, percussion, keyboards, sound effects, vocals
- George Duke / keyboards, piano (electric), vocals, tack piano, ring modulated keyboard
- Don Preston / synthesizer, piano, moog synthesizer, mini moog
- Sal Marquez / trumpet, chimes, flugelhorn, vocals
- Jeff Simmons / bass, guitar, vocals, Hawaiian guitar
- Aynsley Dunbar / guitar, drums, tambourine, Washboard
- Sneaky Pete Kleinow / pedal steel
- Mike Altschul / bass, flute, clarinet (bass), flute (bass), piccolo, sax (Baritone), sax (Tenor)
- Billy Byers / trombone, horn (Baritone)
- Alex Dmochowski / bass
- Tony Duran / vocals, slide guitar
- Erroneous / bass (electric), vocals, fuzz bass
- Janet Ferguson / vocals
- Joel Peskin / sax (Tenor)
- Chris Peterson / vocals
- Kenny Shroyer / trombone, horn (Baritone)
- Ian Underwood / guitar, keyboards, wind
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