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Frank Zappa’s 1972 Jazz Rock Masterpieces The Grand Wazoo & Waka/Jawaka Featured In New Boxed Set, Waka/Wazoo. Part 2, The Live & Studio Sessions

Mark Smotroff continues his deep dive exploration of Zappa’s big band era…

In part one of my review of the fabulous new Frank Zappa five disc boxed set called Waka/Wazoo we explored the fantastic Dolby Atmos Blu-ray surround sound recordings included there. In case you missed Part One, please click here to catch up.  In this second part of my listening report I hope to highlight some of the truly nifty studio and live recordings included on the rest of the the collection.

For those of you reading this not familiar with this music, a paragraph from the official press materials from the Zappa estate may help to shed necessary light on the amazing music in this set:

“In 1972, following the aftermath of being pushed off stage at the Rainbow Theatre in London by a crazed attendee, Frank Zappa found himself recuperating for months in his home in the hills of Los Angeles. Although he was confined to a wheelchair and in immense pain, his work ethic could not be tamed, and he would end up having one of the most prolific years of his hugely prolific career. During this time, he managed, among other things, to assemble an ensemble that quenched his thirst and desire to work with a large “Electric Orchestra.” Ultimately, he contracted a 20-piece group for recording sessions and an eight-city tour. Shortly thereafter, a scaled down 10-piece configuration, now popularly known as the “Petite Wazoo” toured for almost two months. After all was said and done, Zappa finished the experiment with two albums in the can – Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo – plus two tours and an archive of show masters in his Vault. It was a monumental feat for a guy with a cast on his leg and a conductor’s baton in his hand.”

If you are a casual Zappa fan reading this review and wondering where this music fits in the big scheme of things, here is some easy to understand perspective: if you own and enjoyed Zappa’s landmark and immensely popular mostly instrumental jazz-rock fusion album called Hot Rats and have always wondered if there was more of this kind of music from Frank available,  then Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo should be your next Zappa albums to explore.  

Personally, these albums are among my all time favorite Zappa recordings. 

For us deeper Zappa fans, a collection like this is welcome and oft-dreamt-about joy as it not only delivers live recordings from this period  — which a whole lot of us never got to see/hear — but also breaks out rarities from the studio archives which went into the making of the final albums. 

For me, it is precisely that wealth of studio outtakes, alternate mixes and works in progress showing the development of this music from its earliest stages which makes Waka/Wazoo essential listening. 

It is fascinating being the fly-on-the-wall and hearing songs like the bluesy “Your Mouth” in first take form. There, the two vocalists have not quite jelled their performance into the tight blend of the final mix, but it they still have that immediately identifiable sound that is part of that song’s signature.

It is quite amazing to hear the evolution of songs like the title track of The Grand Wazoo album, where we get to hear the early incarnation outtake version titled “Think It Over” which reveals that this tune originally had lyrics sung over it (or at least initial ideas for lyrics on parts of the work)!  

Fans of Zappa keyboardist and singer George Duke will be excited to hear a batch of unreleased recordings made around the same time as these sessions featuring Zappa on guitar. One of the most notable moments in these sessions is an instrumental version of the song “Uncle Remus” which Zappa clearly liked so much that he added lyrics to it and it became a key song on the Apostrophe album couple of years later. But here on Waka/Wazoo we hear that George Duke had the song pretty much fully shaped and thus it would be relatively easy for Zappa to shape it into a full song for his album by adding lyrics and embellishments to Duke’s melody lines.

Speaking of early versions, one of the surprises from the live recordings of the 10-piece “Petite Wazoo” band is that they don’t really do any of the material on Waka/Jawaka or The Grand Wazoo! Instead, the fans in San Francisco attending that concert at the legendary Winterland Ballroom (December 15, 1972) were treated to mostly even newer material Zappa was already working out! 

Included is a great version of “Montana” which would show up on 1973’s Over-Nite Sensation album and a great rockin’ take on “Cosmik Debris” which ended up on the Apostrophe album in 1974. We also get then-unreleased pieces like “Little Dots” and “Farther O’Blivion” (which is a very different piece of music to the like-named “Father O’Blivion” on the Apostrophe album). The set ends with a fine Petite Wazoo impression of “Chunga’s Revenge” (title track from the 1970 Zappa solo album).

Waka/Wazoo comes to you wrapped in a sturdy compact clamshell type box, which no doubt keeps the overhead costs to a minimum allowing them to sell this set for a very reasonable price. 

You can find it for about $60 on Amazon (click on the Waka/Wazoo title anywhere in this review for that) which feels very fair for four jam packed CDs of high quality music and the stellar Blu-ray Disc which gives you both original albums — again, Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo — mixed into spectacular surround sound and in high resolution 96kHz 24-bit PCM Stereo. You also get a neat little booklet with background information and photos from the period.

Probably the only thing that is weird to me is that Waka/Wazoo doesn’t include any of the original cover artwork of the original albums printed on the physical packaging. We do, however, get to see the original album covers which appear on your TV or computer when navigating the Blu-ray Disc (shown here above and below this paragraph). 

You can also find Waka/Wazoo streaming on the better services in high resolution audio including Qobuz Hi Res (click here), Tidal MQA (click here) and Apple Music Lossless (click here). 

Waka/Wazoo is a great collection. If you love Zappa’s mostly instrumental jazz-rock fusion music, you really should listen. 

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