RCD 10549 Jazz From Hell
(production credits unknown)
Released on December 1986
1987 GRAMMY: Best Rock Instrumental Performance
Find it at GEMM
RCD 10549 cover  

J azz from Hell might be the strangest album Frank Zappa ever recorded, and thatís really saying something. Composed almost entirely on the Synclavier, the composer has complete control over every sound, which is a very dangerous thing. For the listener, this is like being inside a musical ion collider where hundreds of notes are aimed at each other, some exploding and some simply bouncing harmlessly off the walls. But thereís always a method to Frankís madness, isnít there? While Iíve found this a tough nut to crack, those arty folks at the Grammys apparently deciphered this and named it Best Rock Instrumental performance in 1987. Honestly, I donít think they understood this music any more than I do, but its potential for greatness is frightening -- itís so unique, so complex, so mathematical in its calculated chaos that if history does one day decode this album and find in it a Rosetta stone for some new musical direction, you couldnít credibly argue that you didnít notice it at the time. Toward the end of the album, Frank takes a break from the computer and inserts a typically molten live instrumental featuring his touring band at the time, ďSt. Etienne.Ē It adds nothing to the Zappa legacy, of course, but all work at the Synclavier and no playing live makes for a dull album. The rest of Jazz from Hell, while fascinating in its extremes, isnít enjoyable on any but the most intellectual of levels. By compounding the chaos usually reserved for Ruth Underwoodís solos, to borrow the words of another great guitarist, ďItís all too much.Ē In a way, there is a connection between these songs -- and I hesitate to call them that since they donít really begin and end so much as start and stop -- and the work of Klaus Schulze (if you put his records on 45 rpm). The same aggressive and willful percussion, serpentine patterns, and musical conflicts appear in both, although one is designed for meditation and the other for excitation. Jazz from Hell is the work of a serious composer, or at the very least a seriously demented composer. Itís probably too extreme for all but the most ardent acolytes of FZ, but music like this could turn out to be potable thirty years down the road.

TRACK LISTING

  1. NIGHT SCHOOL
  2. THE BELTWAY BANDITS
  3. WHILE YOU WERE ART II
  4. JAZZ FROM HELL
  5. G-SPOT TORNADO
  6. DAMP ANKLES
  7. ST. ETIENNE
  8. MASSAGGIO GALORE

CREDITS

FRANK ZAPPA -- Synclavier
Ed Mann -- percussion
Tommy Mars -- keyboards
Bobby Martin -- keyboards
Scott Thunes -- bass
Steve Vai -- rhythm guitar
Chad Wackerman -- drums
Ray White -- rhythm guitar

REGION RELEASE DATE LABEL MEDIA ID NUMBER FEATURES
US December 1986 Barking Pumpkin LP/CS ST-74205  
UK December 1986 EMI LP/CS EMC-3521  
CAN December? 1986 Capitol LP ST-6553  
EEC/BRA December? 1986 EMI LP 2406 731  
JPN 1993 Video Arts CD VACK-1258  
WW Apr/May 1995 Rykodisc CD/CS RCD 10549 digitally remastered
JPN   Video Arts CDLE VACK-5134 limited edition

 

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