Tag Archives: 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

Tomita In Quadrophonic: Surround Sound Was Made For This Music

Back in the 1970s when I was a teenager just getting into music I remember hearing some recordings by Japanese synthesizer wizard, composer and arranger Isao Tomita and being simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed. The latter I attribute to my having been getting deeply into progressive rock and Frank Zappa in particular. I was already dipping my toes into the classical universe of artists who influenced Zappa such as Edgar Varese and Igor Stravinsky 

The first Tomita album I eventually picked up out of curiosity — this was before the days of being able to preview an album streamed on the Interwebs, folks… and this music wasn’t played on any radio stations I listened to — was indeed his interpretation of one of Stravinsky’s masterworks, The Firebird Suite

I love that piece of music and while it was on the surface impressive that he was able to perform the work, Tomita’s version left me kind of cold for some reason and I was never sure why. Wendy Carlos had already done some magical things combining classical music with synthesizers (her legendary Switched On Bach recordings).  And groups like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP) were taking synthesizers to wild extremes for the times, both incorporating touchstones of classical in their work. Yes legendarily opened its concerts with an excerpt from The Firebird and ELP even had even recorded an entire live album of a rock interpretation of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition. Renaissance brilliantly reinterpreted Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade for a new generation to discover. 

So, while classical music was in the air for many of us back around this time, perhaps my expectations for a sizzling listening experience went beyond the scope of my teenage stereo system…

Fast forward and today I’m listening to a wonderful SACD from the Dutton-Vocalion label which contains the original 1970s quadrophonic mixes of Tomita’s Firebird and all I can think about are the phrases: “missed opportunity” and “ahead of his time.” 

The missed opportunity is that Tomita should have been touring with bands like Yes and ELP.  Apparently, Tomita performed live with a quadrophonic sound system which must have been a wonder to see and hear!  Groups like Pink Floyd had performed in quad even in the early 1970s. Note, there are recordings from Tomita’s live quad shows (click here  and here for a BBC transcription in Stereo which was apparently broadcast in quadrophonic sound back in the day, his first performance in England according to the website). 

Original Japanese LP cover art for Tomita’s Firebird

The ahead of his time part is that quadrophonic sound as a commercial medium back in the 70s simply wasn’t ready for prime time. Quad LPs and tapes were often available but getting those systems to work properly was apparently easier said than done. There were Quad broadcasts but you had to have one of the then new Quadrophonic receivers to be able to hear them. Not many had them yet, alas.

So, hearing Tomita’s original quad mixes of The Firebird today has been a revelation. This music which once left me cold now engages and excites me!

As an arranger, clearly he was in his sweet spot mixing for multi-channel, creating a wonderfully immersive mix which is not hung up on — and doesn’t pretend to try to — re-create a live soundstage. All his work was painstakingly programmed and performed. And here on The Firebird Suite he takes advantages of the otherworldly peaks and valleys in Stravinsky’s score and applies it to the design of the mix. The impact is wonderful.

It’s a little hard to describe this, especially if you don’t know this particular piece of music. Try to imagine in general a dramatic classical work or a movie soundtrack where the violins and cellos, horns and woodwinds that were percolating and soaring in those big epic sequences in monaural or stereo now swirled around, over and through you. That may give you an idea of what parts of this fine quadrophonic mix is like (especially when you sit in the “sweet spot” of your home theater or surround sound system listening area — that perfect zone for the listener to be seated in order to best appreciate a surround mix).

The other interesting thing about this fine version of Tomita’s Firebird is that when I compared the two channel Stereo mix on the hybrid SACD to a pristine conventional Stereo LP, they sound very much the same. This is a good thing and it seems to be a conscious effort on the part of the SACD’s producers as I have noticed this on several others of their releases which I have reviewed recently. They don’t try to modernize or brighten the recordings, so it feels true to the original.

Now if only there was some way to bring out more of these fun Tomita Quadrophonic mixes to  broader audience (ie. less expensive and more easily accessible, especially here in the United States), that would be a useful and wonderful occurrence.  

Perhaps with more impactful packaging (the liner notes here reproduce those from 1976 release and reveal nothing really about the four channel mixes) and a new push from domestic United States labels (Sony Classical owns this particular work apparently, even though it was originally on the RCA Records label), then there might be some stronger hope of bringing Tomita’s music to life again for new audiences to discover.  

Tomita’s music is ripe for rediscovery.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Qobuz, UMe and Zappa Records to Offer Iconic Frank Zappa Albums in Hi-Res for the First Time

March 31, 2021 – Qobuz, the music lovers’ Hi-Res streaming and download provider, has partnered with UMe and Zappa Records to provide dozens of Frank Zappa albums for the first time in Hi-Res Audio.
UMe, the global catalog company of Universal Music Group, and Zappa Records are launching today a Hi-Res reissue campaign on Qobuz totaling 29 albums spanning all phases of Zappa’s groundbreaking career. The five-week campaign will span a series of drops between now and May 7th, with classic and influential albums released for download and streaming in Hi-Res audio quality for the first time.
“Frank Zappa was passionate about making his music sound as good as possible and we are excited to continue that legacy by releasing several of his albums in Hi-Res Audio with Qobuz,” said Bruce Resnikoff, President & CEO of UMe. “Fans on Qobuz can experience Frank’s genius in the way he would have wanted his music to sound.”
Beginning April 2, fans will be able to stream and download nine albums exclusively on Qobuz. The albums will be available in native 24-bit Hi-Res FLAC format. Each will include an extensive PDF digital booklet, a feature only available on Qobuz’s streaming apps. The assortment includes the second album from the original Mothers of Invention, Absolutely Free, first released in 1967, and Halloween 81, documenting Zappa’s famed holiday residency at New York City’s Palladium, in both full box set and edited ‘highlights’ versions.
On April 1, Ahmet Zappa and Joe Travers, the Zappa “Vaultmeister,” will join Qobuz Chief Hi-Res Evangelist, David Solomon, and the Qobuz team for a livestream discussion. This upcoming event is part of Qobuz’s weekly Qobuz Live series that features hot topics, brands and personalities in the music-lover and audiophile worlds. The livestream will cover the story of Zappa Hi-Res archives, the importance of audio quality, and the upcoming Zappa Hi-Res catalog releases. Additionally, Travers is curating an exclusive annotated Zappa playlist for Qobuz, which will be released later in April.
According to Qobuz USA Managing Director Dan Mackta, “Presenting the work of iconic artists in the best possible quality is our reason for existence. Frank Zappa’s music continues to inspire listeners all over the world and Qobuz is honored to be able to promote his artistic vision.”
See the list of Hi-Res Frank Zappa albums to be released exclusively on Qobuz April 2, and listen to Frank Zappa on Qobuz HERE.
Absolutely Free
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Bongo Fury
Chicago ’78
Zappa In New York (40th Anniversary Deluxe)
Orchestral Favorites (40th Anniversary)
Halloween 81
Halloween 81 Highlights
The Mothers 1970 Box Set

The post Qobuz, UMe and Zappa Records to Offer Iconic Frank Zappa Albums in Hi-Res for the First Time appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

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

Remixes & Remasters Vs. Originals: No Easy Answers (Part 1)

Recently somebody suggested an idea to me which I thought was pretty cool: do a little “analysis” — in the loosest sense — of whether certain re-mixes and re-masters are better or worse than the original mixes. As I dove into writing this I seem to have opened a bit of a Pandora’s Box of thinking, while not having a conclusive answer to the question.  But it is still worth discussing since the topic is obviously on some of your minds as well, Dear Readers. 

This is a touchy subject which I’ve seen divide scores of collectors and even friends… Really, this is surprisingly a quite personal topic which objectively has no “correct” answer, at least as far as the listener is concerned. My tastes and desires are unique from yours, both equally valid.  

That said, I swing both ways when it comes to the argument of originals vs. remasters and even remixed versions of favorite recordings. There are so many variables to consider — from how the remaster or remix was created to simply relative availability of an original copy. 

As I pointed out in my review of the recent Blue Note Tone Poet reissue of Kenny Burrell’s 1956 debut (click here to read that) finding an original in any condition is very difficult and the new version actually presents more of the music that was originally captured on tape.  That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to own an original pressing for some of these albums — I’m holding onto my Kenny Burrell album even though it is beat up! — but having the new edition is a great close second, this side of finding a pristine original. 

Many people who are fans of a particular beloved recording feel it should remain untouched. Others get very upset somehow thinking that when an album gets remixed it immediately means that the original is no longer in existence (I’m not kidding folks, I’ve encountered this perspective from people many times over the years!). Some people get upset when they learn that what they’ve been listening to actually is a remix and not the original.

I’ve even gone to some extremes on social media (if you will) talking some people down from the ledge to calm them down, particularly when The Beatles’ albums were being remastered.  Forget about talking to some of those folks about the remixes, but do remember that you can always still play your original vinyl pressings of those albums, of which there are millions of copies around the world to choose from. No one is taking them away from you. 

The impetus for this article believe it or not came about as a result of a Facebook post I made about The Grateful Dead’s third studio album, Aoxomoxoa.  Discussions arose about the remix of that record which the band made in the early 1970s  (as well as to Anthem of the Sun) as to whether one was better or worse than the other? And of course, the answer to that is, inconclusively: it depends on your perspective

If you are a purist and want to hear the specific vibe the band crafted in the 60s, then the original mixes are the way to go. If you are looking to just hear the music in as clean a presentation as possible, the remixes might well be better for you.  The remix definitely sounds more like a 1970s mix than even one from a just a couple of years earlier.

In some instances a remix can be justified. For example, on the digital Stereo remix of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, you can now hear much more detail as the many tracks of music that went into making that album are now mixed in first generation quality. The resulting drums and bass in particular sound fuller and more dynamic than before. Interestingly, the overall vibe is closer to that of the original Mono mix — the mix the Beatles themselves put their energies behind at the time.  But… to get that one pays the price of listening to music from a digital source which ruffles the feathers of many an analog purist.  You can click here to read my review of that mix if you are interested.

Those Grateful Dead albums which Phil Lesh remixed in the early 1970s are generally fine but most serious fans of the band seem to prefer the original mix.  You can read about them on the Wiki (click the titles following):  Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa

When it comes to Aoxomoxoa — one of my favorite Dead albums — I lean toward the original, if only to hear the choir on “Mountains Of The Moon” (which neatly pre-echos the end of side one of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells!). I haven’t spent enough time with the Anthem of the Sun remix to make a definitive choice. And you know what? There is no reason to. If you like a particular album a lot you will probably want both versions!

There is also the question of whether remasters are “better” or worse than the originals? Many people are justifiably gun shy these days having endured a seemingly endless barrage of remasters of favorite albums over the years across a multitude of formats and music delivery platforms — from LP to cassette to CD, SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray, HD Downloads, Streaming. If you are a regular purchaser of music, you have no doubt seen the buzz words whizz by you on hype stickers applied to the packaging and promotional materials for albums over the years: analog, digital, DMM, Half-Speed, Ultradisc One Step, DSD, PCM, Quiex, etc. It is confusing at times as these are diverse processes and technologies, some unique to the vinyl production process and others used in preparing the actual original final recordings for release. Some are used separately or simultaneously. Some are great. Some have delivered mixed results.

So, take a deep breath…. As I said earlier, there are no easy answers to this question…

Having done a fair amount of recording myself I understand the value of both re-mastering of older recordings and new mastering of new projects. There have been significant progressions in technology over the years with certain capabilities that can actually improve the final sound of a recording if handled properly.  Recent remasters of albums by Frank Zappa, XTC and others have been at times revelatory. 

Tune in tomorrow when we’ll explore more of that in Part 2 of this series…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review