Written by 6:17 pm Audiophile Music, Audiophile, Audiophile News, Compact Disc, Streaming

Ripe For Halloween, Frank Zappa’s New 1975 Yugoslavian Concert Set Showcases Rare Transitional Band and Musical Experiments on CD and Streaming

Mark Smotroff explores a tasty pumpkin…

Halloween was Frank Zappa’s favorite holiday so it is not surprising that there is a new release recorded in the general vicinity of Dracula’s Transylvania: Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana.

1975 was a bit of an incredible year for this legendary composer, guitarist and all around musical icon. He completed a brand new album – One Size Fits All, widely considered one of his best rock albums – toured extensively, revised and updated his band which was evolving and even found time for orchestral performances of his music. And then along the way he got an invitation to play in Yugoslavia for his first and only time.

The two concerts they perform there in the cities of Zagreb and Ljubljana are the subject of a fascinating new two CD set issued by Universal Music and Zappa Records — called simply, Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana. Taken from restored rare eight-track tapes as well as Zappa’s own stereo line mixes captured on his trusty, portable Nagra Stereo reel-to-reel recorder, the sessions provide a fascinating snapshot not only into the sound of his band in transition but we get to hear many classic Zappa compositions evolving before our very ears.

The short-lived group had not only the newly-anointed and soon-to-be-legendary drummer Terry Bozzio on board but also two briefly-tenured members, Andre Lewis on keyboards and Norma Bell on alto sax and vocals. These players were only in the band for a handful of months, making making these recordings all the more fascinating to hear their takes on the material. Also in the band was Napoleon Murphy Brock from the legendary “Roxy” era of the band on lead vocals and tenor sax. Original Mother of Invention Roy Estrada returned for one last time on bass. Borrowing a phrase from guitarist Robert Fripp, this five-piece assemblage was in its own way a small intelligent mobile unit. 

The interesting thing about these recordings on Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana is that Zappa was able to test drive (if you will) many new ideas before a live audience that had never really seen him perform before. Zappa’s bands rarely made obvious mistakes, but if ever there was a location where they could take some risks with new ideas, this was it. And that’s where this set becomes more essential in the grand scheme of Zappa’s history. Now we can hear early versions of new material he was working on at that time, such as the so-called “prototype” version of “Filthy Habits,” which would later appear as part of the Läther-era material issued on the Sleep Dirt LP in 1979. 

We are also treated to early work-outs of then brand new compositions like “Black Napkins” and “Zoot Allures.”  And they play a great version of “Chunga’s Revenge,” again with many new ideas flowing from Zappa’s fretboard and fingertips. Of course the audience is treated to some “greatest hits” as the band breaks out numerous early Mothers of Invention tunes from Freak Out and We’re Only In It For The Money as well as later fan favorites from Overnight Sensation, Apostrophe and then new albums Bongofury and One Size Fits All.

In this light, it is perhaps worth pointing out that the cover of Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana features a photo of Frank tuning his guitar, not really an image we get to see featured very often (at least on an album cover design). Perhaps this subconsciously represents the experimental tune-up nature of these recordings. Just a thought… 

But I digress… 

Overall the sound quality on Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana is quite good all things considered. There are some fluctuations in sound, which the producers explain transparently in the liner notes. That these recordings exist at all in this sort of quality is quite remarkable! The eight-track recorder that they were working off of was apparently a very rare half-inch tape format version with special DBX noise reduction employed. This required much specialized tender-loving-care to extract the music from these tapes. And because they were performing at two venues with quite different acoustics, the overall sound quality does vary.   

But, in general, Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana still sounds pretty great and is certainly very enjoyable if you are a Zappa fan (and especially if you are accustomed to listening to the many archival recordings which have been issued over the years).  Between the two shows, producers Joe Travers and Ahmet Zappa have assembled one nice compilation of all the music performed on that mini-tour in best possible quality. 

Some of the performances are  quite astounding particularly Terry Bozzio’s several incredible drum solos — for which he receives credit as composer, separate from Zappa’s work!  You can really hear Terry quickly emerging as the powerhouse center of Zappa’s universe around that time. He is now highly regarded as one of Zappa’s best ever drummers.

You can find Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana streaming on Tidal MQA IN 24-bit, 44.1 kHz fidelity (click here), Apple Music Hi Res Lossless (click here) as well as Qobuz in 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution (click here). But if you like physical media —and want to read the recollections of the tour from Terry Bozzio and sound person Davy Moire — the CD may be your best bet. 

If you are a casual fan looking for high fidelity Zappa sounds like Hot Rats, this album is not for you (check out Waka Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo instead!).  But if you are a hardcore Zappa fan, you’ll want this for the interesting variants and many groovy then-new ideas Frank was test driving before an unsuspecting audience.  Zappa ’75: Zagreb/Ljubljana is ultimately essential listening for the deep Zappa fan.

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