ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA
DIRECTOR: PIERRE LAMOUREUX
COUNTRY: USA 2007
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Carl Davis, Jeff Feller, Kevin Graf, Marcus Rogers and Paul Tee
MUSIC: FRANK ZAPPA
MUSICIANS: terry Bozzio, Napoleon Brock Murphy, Billy Hunting, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa and others
Also partially reviewed, another concert show by Frank Zappa called "BABY SNAKES"
Concert films are almost always ... the worst! It is never about the music ... it is always about a star ... and you know what is sad here? ... the music is the star, not a single player ... and the directors and the cinematographers did not know the music any better than they do the star ... and worse ... every now and then you get a solo and the camera cuts away from the hand, or the artistry involved ... there's the MTV generation ... musicianship doesn't matter and the only thing that counts is the scantily clad woman to show you that her music is better looking anyway! ... tease ... and then sell!
America is a sad place for music ... other than milk that money quick while it lasts. And as such, it is really difficult to do something serious and not get trashed for it and be considered not "progressive" or "into their own trip" ... and not realize that some musicians are a cut above the rest ... and they are doing the very same thing that "classical music" is doing ... and trying, in a way, to educate people about music a little more ... sadly, this can only happen in a few big towns, since one is certainly not going to bring this stuff to small town Podunk anywhere ... and expect people to enjoy it and appreciate it in some way or another.
Frank Zappa in his day, knew that and then some and he pretty much preached the gospel of ... stick to the music ... and do not do the commercial thing ... where greatness and despair go hand in hand ... and beauty is just as ugly as anything else ... and no one really cares anyway ... and in the end, he had an expression that became famous ... shut and play yer guitar! ... which, while forceful, really sad a lot more about the man and the music ... you can not be afraid of the music, and sometimes I think that this is his greatest gift of all.
But what is music? The same format and design for pop music? Frank knew different and showed it and did it. And he mixed everything and the kitchen sink and whatever else, just to show people that there is music ... every where ... and that music is important to our insides and a lot more valuable than a hit single that sells a few ... and is quickly forgotten ... none of us, have enjoyed the feeling of being forgotten and left by wayside by a stray lover ... or relationship ... and that is, at best, what the music business is about.
A few years later, Frank's son has grown up and learned to play the guitar ... and he is doing something that ... is very nice, and what's more ... it's almost better than the original.
Hard to say. When one watches another concert film of Frank's, the one called "Baby Snakes" ... there is one thing that becomes apparent about an hour into it ... it is an overload ... but ... you sit and wonder after a pause on the DVD ... overload? ... of what? ... and it is easy to answer ... few people are used to sitting through music non-stop ... and that concert is almost an overload ... and impossible, and I doubt that 9 out of 10 musicians could even come close enough to stand on that same stage and play more than just a riff!
And you can see it ... the master of improvisation, and he is not afraid to jump into it, or allow someone else the moment, and that is something that rock music in its commercial state is not capable of appreciating ... everyone can listen to Layla ... or Stairway to Heaven ... but few people can appreciate the music behind it, and even Jimmy Page even stated once on a review on one of his band's album ... not a word ... not a word ... and it showed the disappointment in the critics, that are strictly a part of the music business ... and afraid to say anything meaningful and about the music itself. And Frank, of all people, may have thought ... forget the reviews ... forget the business ... just play ... and that he ... and everyone around him ... did ... and then some! BABY SNAKES is almost an overload for this reviewer, but it stands out ... about a day and age, when music meant something ... a lot more ... than just another hit song for memory lane with the audience.
Which brings us, up to date ... with ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA.
A few years after Frank's departure, his son has grown up to also play the guitar ... and lead a group of people that are capable enough to play ... and the result ... is ... quite different. But, it is excellent in its own way.
While BABY SNAKES showed improvisation at its best, well probably a slightly pre-defined improvisation where a beginning, and end might be agreed upon, but in between it's ... break it out folks ... let it all hang out ... and you can see the amount of energy and talent, when Frank does this on this filmed concert ... and ... it leaves you wondering ... good gracious ... that guy is exhausted and on his last breath!
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA, is very good ... but unlike the earlier show, it does not contain much "improvisation" per se, the staple of a lot of Frank's music, although some will argue that most of it was composed and it is written down ... yes it is written down, and one can find all over the Internet the score for 200 MOTELS, but you certainly won't find a music school that is half that talented and willing to do something different and ... worst of all ... extremely difficult.
The material has "softened" since the earlier days ... it's now a "concert" ... and not a "show" ... and at least for this reviewer, that is enough ... quite enough ... were it not for the bad camera direction used in the film. It's always bizarre, how one can see Steve Vai start up a solo, and then you only hear it ... and can not see him actually playing it ... it's the most disrespectful thing, and it says it all about a lot of American "arts" ... it's not about the ability or the talent ... it's about ... something else.
While the material in ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA, does not in any way sound bad, or old, it sounds remarkably fresh and one can not help notice ... oh my gawd ... progressive music took this ... metal music stole that ... and then realize that so much of this was being done 30 to 35 years ago ... and you and I can sit here and wonder ... wow ... it's no wonder that people like John Lennon and so many others, thought so much of this guy named Zappa.
With a really nice and quite enjoyable performances by Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio as special guests, there is one thing that you learn and appreciate quickly ... these guys know music ... and if anything, Terry Bozzio has mellowed some ... when you watch BABY SNAKES he is totally crazy and out of it ... and just all over the place with expressions and making fun at the camera, and he still does it in this one, but not as much, and one can sense that he is actually having to work hard to keep up, but does so beautifully ... and he might find a mistake here and there ... but I doubt that 99.9% of the audience can tell ...
In the end, it is a fantastic performance by all. Napoleon Murphy Brock is still alive and looking well, and sings it all like a beat has never been missed ... as do all the other musicians.
If I have a request, and this is personal ... ditch the MTV style of camera and direction ... you need more appreciation for the music and its talent and abilities ... you don't need a new camera shot trying to see if the keyboard player's chest is sticking out in sweat ... all you need to see is her hands move on all the instruments she uses and the keyboard work involved ... to realize quickly ... these people are good! ... and nothing else matters.
So, you decide ... what do you want?
Excellent music and stuff ...
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