Tag Archives: Frank Zappa

Why Did I Spend 40 Dollars On One Album By Brazilian Jazz-Fusion Maestro Hermeto Pascoal?

I recently bought a copy of Hermeto Pascoal’s 1979 album zabumbê-bum-á on a 180-gram vinyl LP reissue. I paid $40 for a single album and I have absolutely zero regrets. The pressing sounds great but is admittedly not perfect with quite a bit of roller-coaster warpage that doesn’t affect the play. It is even wee bit of off center on one side but it fortunately doesn’t impact the playback significantly to the point where I can’t enjoy the music (but I have to acknowledge that it is there).

I don’t care.

This album is amazing as it feels at times like I am hearing a missing link between Frank Zappa and Chick Corea, something I’ve actually thought of once or twice over the years. 

True story: when I was first getting into Chick’s music in the 1970s I wrote to him (he had that address on the back of many of his albums with Return To Forever). Believe it or not, we corresponded a bit, me eventually giving him recommendations on Zappa records to listen to as he said he’d not known where to start on Frank’s music. Somewhere I still have those two or three letters which I cherish.  

When I listen to Hermeto Pascoal’s music I am continually amazed at the effortless brilliance of his at times intensely complex — and simultaneously beautiful — musical ideas and execution, much like the best works by Zappa and Corea. 

Now, some of you may know that I’ve been diving deeper into Pascoal’s catalog which is ridiculously difficult to find in physical form here in America. 

Why this is the case? This music is important and brilliant! He did have an album out on Warner Brothers in the mid ‘70s, which was my introduction to his music, Slaves Mass.  

But after that I went for years not seeing another of his records until I was in New Orleans in January of 2020 and found his great 2018 release with his current band Grupo (click here for that review). This kickstarted my interest and passion in tracking down more of his music on physical media like vinyl LPs and CDs. 

If the comments from one of the fans on the Amazon page for zabumbê-bum-á is accurate, this album was hard to get even in Brazil back in the day and was essentially invisible in the USA and Europe.

Anyhow, for weeks I was contemplating buying zabumbê-bum-á which I saw at Amoeba Music in their “World Music” section. The $42 price tag held me off until I traded some old things in for store credit, so I went for it. 

I’m glad I did as zabumbê-bum-á is a jawdropper.  Musically the album ranges from stunningly beautiful samba-flavored pop jazz melodies (“Sao Jorge”) to whimsical piano-flute-vocal mood pieces (“Rede”) to balls-to-the-wall insanely complex jazz fusion. 

There is even a track here that sounds like what might have happened if Frank Zappa and Chick Corea got together — they’d have probably created a musical love child like Hermeto Pascoal’s “Susto” 

“Suite Paulistana” feels like what might have happened had Edgar Varese and Igor Stravinsky went out partying during Mardi Gras.

I can understand that some of you might not be prepared to plop down 40 bucks on a single album by an artist you don’t know well, if at all.  And that is where some of the streaming services are handy.  You can find zabumbê-bum-á streaming on Tidal in MQA format (click here) and on Spotify (click here). Sadly, its not up on Qobuz. Many others of Pascoal’s albums are up there on these streaming services so do check them out. 

I know I’m gushing a bunch here but what else can I say?

I get extra enthusiastic when I’m excited about something new I’ve discovered which I want everyone I know to hear.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get excited by this too!

Following are some YouTube clips of two of my favorites on the album so far including a live version of them both in a medley!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Frank Zappa Documentary Part II: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack On CD

In part one of my review series we explored the new Blu-ray edition of the Alex Winter’s terrific new documentary about Frank Zappa which is simply titled Zappa. If you missed that story, please click here to jump to it. 

For those of you who like soundtracks, rejoice knowing that there is one available for this fine new movie named after its namesake. Zappa has been streaming for a while on all the popular services including Qobuz and Tidal. You can click here for my review of it based on the streams and you should read it as it does go into a bunch of detail on things you can expect to hear.  

For those of you who prefer “physical media” — and who might want to buy the album to help support future archive releases (that is how this process typically works, folks) — now you can get the album on a three compact disc collection. 

I have found the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack quite handy and intriguing as a listening experience in its own right. It is particularly useful as it now allows me to hear the music on different devices beyond my computer including my car– yes I still have a CD player in my car! It sounds great as CDs go and sounds particularly good in the car, must say. 

One of the details I have come to recognize and appreciate about this release is that it is genuinely an “original soundtrack” and usually that means it includes incidental music from the film. This is an important distinction for the hardcore Zappa fan to come to grips with as this is not really intended as purely another “Vault” release even though it is created from materials in the Vault.  

Got that?

So, this set includes a significant amount of incidental music created not by Frank Zappa. The album includes 26 original score cues newly composed by John Frizzell to support the connecting dramatic intercut scenes which helped tell the story.

Initially, I will admit that I was a little bit miffed about this as a Zappa fan most of my adult life. But as I got deeper into listening to the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack via this new physical album — I began to appreciate Frizzell’s work for what it is and how it helps achieve the intent of the film: to use Zappa’s archival footage to tell a narrative story about his personal life as a composer. 

Prior to writing this I watched the documentary for a third time including and could see and hear how these musical cues are essential ingredients towards the film’s success.

Stepping  outside my Zappa “fan boy’ mindset, I stopped to consider why they didn’t “just” use Frank’s own music for this purpose. Well, first, it would have been a Herculean — if not impossible — task to find appropriate music from Zappa’s vast catalog to fit the vibe of each scene in just that right way. It probably could have been done, no doubt, but it probably would’ve added three or more years onto the project I would suspect.  

That notion aside, having this sort of Eno-esque, ambient under-scoring for the storytelling scenes helps to lift Zappa beyond the typical rock documentaries that I’ve seen. Hearing this other non-Zappa music actually gives your mind a breather to focus your attention on the underlying story. Accordingly, the soundtrack pieces have very specific titles such as “Frank’s Library,” “Greeting Cards” and “Frank Goes To Jail.”

Zappa (the film) has a very clear intention to tell the story about what Frank’s life was about from Frank’s perspective, not necessarily rehashing many of the stories that have already been told elsewhere. It is important for people who have never heard Zappa before to understand this broader perspective. 

As Gail Zappa says in the film: ‘he’s a composer.’

Ok, so there’s only one more element left this in this rollout of the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: the upcoming five LP vinyl box set of the as well as two-disc incarnations. As soon as we get our hands on a copy of that we’ll sure to give you an update!

So stay tuned Zappa fans as there’s more fun to come regarding this wonderful documentary experience.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Frank Zappa Documentary Part I: The Blu-ray Disc

Some of you may remember that last year I was very excited to review a video documentary by producer director Alex Winter about one of my musical heroes, Frank Zappa. This film — simply called Zappa — embodied a multi-level project that not only helped preserve the vast archive of historical media in Zappa’s legendary “vault” archive, but presented a distinctive profile of Zappa’s life not many of us really fully understood. And it was all told pretty much from his vantage point and those who worked closely around him. 

If you haven’t seen the film and want more insight, please click here to jump to my overview / review from when the documentary first was released in digital form (and when the soundtrack appeared on some streaming services). 

Alex Winther did a magnificent job on Zappa and the biopic is now available on Blu-ray Disc for those who like to own physical versions in their collection. There are a number of reasons why you would want this. Zappa is a powerful documentary which contains a lot of great footage in it that I suspect that even hard core Zappa fans had never seen before — at least in this sort of quality — so on that level it is essential. 

It is worth noting here that Zappa fans are a bit like DeadHeads and Springsteen fanatics, collecting the artist’s music deeply beyond the officially released material — radio and concert recordings, TV appearances and more. 

For those types of super serious fans, there are wonderful bonus materials on the Zappa Blu-ray Disc so you don’t want to miss out on that. Included are fascinating demonstrations by Zappa of his Synclavier,  an early digital music production workstation.  There are wonderful out-take interviews with Zappa’s musician including Mike Keneally, Steve Vai and Ruth Underwood, all offering important additional insights. 

There is also video of great question and answer Zoom session featuring Alex Winter and associate producer Mike Nichols, moderated by no less than “Weird Al” Yankovic!  There they offer many more insights into what went into making this fantastic documentary and its underlying intent. 

There, you’ll also get a tantalizing teaser of a sort confirming most every Zappa fan’s dreams that there is much more in the vault yet to see the light of day. Just hearing those words uttered (albeit, non-specifically), confirming the notion that they are still figuring out what to do with all the the material there, is an exciting musical carrot dangling in the future for this Zappa fan.

Perhaps my favorite bonus feature on the disc, however, is the shortest item included: an animated TV commercial for Zappa’s classic 1974 release, Apostrophe. I would love to know where this commercial may have aired back in the day…

The Blu-ray Disc comes with options for Stereo and standard Dolby Digital surround sound. The latter is perfectly adequate for this presentation as there are no whizz-bang super immersive special effects going on. Also, since much of the material presented is taken from vintage TV and archival video sources in frequency-limited mono and stereophonic sound, the surround mix is almost ancillary. It does fill up you home theater viewing space nicely for what it is.

One last tidbit as we wrap up this review is the notion of the cover art used on the Kickstarter edition of Zappa vs. the commercially released incarnation:  each have completely different designs!

At first I was surprised because I thought the original promo poster (and soundtrack album design for that matter) which the Zappa estate created was actually pretty terrific. But I suspect that there is one thing central to that image which is probably difficult to promote these days in mainstream retail outlets: cigarettes.

Zappa fans know he was a lifelong heavy smoker – something that probably contributed to his death (look it up on the web). Whenever you saw him, whether in the studio, his house or on stage in concert, a cigarette was never far away.

So having that image of him smoking on the cover — there is even a silhouette shot of him on the physical discs in the soundtrack packaging — is a reminder, I think at least, to people to not smoke. If you know the story you won’t take this as an endorsement that smoking is anything good. 

However, understanding the realities of brick and mortar retail in the 21st century, I suspect that cigarettes are something that probably can’t be on a product as some people might take to heart as a positive endorsement. There is nothing cool or good about smoking, kids. 

‘Nuff said…

Anyhow, tune in tomorrow when I’ll explore the newly released Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on compact disc!

Zappa’s Apostrophe Ad from a fan post on YouTube…. the Blu-ray version looks much better than this!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Zappa Engineer/Pro-Audio Exec Mark Pinske Dead at 70

Mark Pinske
Mark Pinske at AES, 2016 Skylab Studios

New York, NY (October 5, 2020)—A consummate audio pro who made a name for himself equally in recording, live sound and manufacturing, Mark Pinske died September 30, 2020 of cardiac arrest. He was 70. Across a career spanning five decades, Pinske was an executive for numerous major audio brands, owned a studio, and was an FOH engineer for numerous artists, most notably Frank Zappa, for whom he became a trusted studio engineer as well.

Born in Arlington, MN in November 1949, Pinske went to college at University of Florida, studying business administration and ultimately earning a BSEE. During this time, he became the local ‘go-to’ engineer for recording bands and demos, but eventually moved into live sound in the mid-1970s, working in the then-emerging touring industry for Clair Brothers, Showco and Maryland Sound as he went on the road mixing B.B. King, Weather Report and others.

Moving to Los Angeles in the later 1970s, he quickly found work at pioneering console manufacturer Quad Eight Electronics, designing film consoles. He underwent a two-part audition for Frank Zappa—half in the studio and half in a live-sound setting—to become the esoteric artist’s FOH engineer. Having spent years on the road in tour busses, he accepted an offer to join the Zappa camp on the condition that he get to fly with the band—a move that helped solidify his connection to the artists he was serving. From 1980 to 1987, Pinske recorded many of Zappa’s studio albums in the artist’s famed $3.5 million home studio, Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, and also built and manned Zappa’s recording truck, which captured concert after concert for archival use as well as new compositions recorded on the road.

Legendary Studio Designer Francis Manzella Passes

Going out on his own in 1987 as Zappa began to wind down his career, Pinske returned to touring, mixing house for David Lee Roth’s ‘Eat Em and Smile’ tour, thanks to his ties with Zappa alum Steve Vai who was on guitar duties with the former Van Halen frontman. Other major tours included extensive road time in Australia with Men at Work, and manning the desk for Stevie Wonder, Bobby Brown, Terence Trent D’Arby and Bell Biv DeVoe.

During this era, Pinske also co-founded Pro Media Studios in Gainsville, FL, eventually selling his half of the business to his partner, who renamed the facility Skylab Recording Studios; the facility is open to this day. While he was there, Pinske recorded members of Bon Jovi; Aleka’s Attic, featuring Gainsville native actor/musician River Phoenix; and jazz great Al Di Meola, among others.

As the 1990s wore on, Pinske moved into the manufacturing side of pro audio, first with a four-year stint at Creamware, then moving on to Peavey Electronics in February, 2000, where over the course of the next nine years, he became the general manager of early Peavey Professional divisions Architectural Acoustics and MediaMatrix. Following a strategic alliance that began in 1998, Peavey eventually purchased Crest Audio outright, and Pinske became Crest’s COO during his tenure. In 2009, Pinske became executive director of sales and marketing for loudspeaker manufacturer Radian Audio Engineering in Orange, CA, where he stayed until eventually leaving audio in March, 2015.

Mark Pinske • http://www.pinske.com/

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com