Written by 5:13 am Audiophile Music

Zappa Rocks the Roxy : Visual Proof That “Jazz is Not Dead, It Just Smells Funny”

Mark Smotroff lives to see a legendary Zappa concert film released


OK… So I get it now… 

AR-ZappaRoxyBlu225[2].jpgA big piece of Frank Zappa’s conceptual continuity “Project/Object” puzzle has been completed with the release of the much anticipated and long awaited cinematic counterpart-of-sorts to his classic 1974 live Album called Roxy and Elsewhere, titled simply Roxy – The Movie.

Why now? Well, Frank Zappa, his family and friends have been trying for the better part of 40 years to get this one together… 

And they finally did it!

And the world is a better place for it.

That the producers of Roxy – The Movie were finally able to get over the technical hurdles which kept this film in the vault for all these years is equally remarkable – – in short, there was a major audio-film synchronicity problem that could not be resolved until a 21st-century technology emerged that could fix it.  

Thus, for all these years, we — the fans — have had but a partial soundtrack available to a film that didn’t exist up until now (the aforementioned Roxy & Elsewhere). The joy of that album – for those who have made the personal commitment to explore it in all it’s wild abandon glory – is that our minds eye completed the picture that has been missing all these years, allowing us to imagine what was actually happening on stage. Unless you were there, however, there was no way you could know exactly what really went on. 

Those of you who familiar with the Zappa/Roxy legacy will want to know some of the basics about this new release which is out on Blu-ray disc and DVD as well as CD.  

Getting to the crux of the biscuit: Roxy – The Movie rocks!  

Now you can see it in all its vivid big-screened glory, the awe and spectacle of what occurred up the Roxy’s stage back in December 1973. 

  • Behold:  Zappa’s joyous social multimedia experiment as audience members frolic onstage with abandon to keyboardist/vocalist George Duke’s jazz scat vocalese during “BeBop Tango” !
  • Witness: the jaw-dropping percussion ensemble of Ruth Underwood, Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson, tag-teaming clockwork precision to accomplish the superhuman performances of Mr. Zappa’s exacting music live on stage !!  
  • Discover: the magic behind the mayhem, a mesmerizing drums-only live-on-stage preview of the rhythm track for “Cheepnis” !!!
  • Explore: the riches of classic Zappa deep album tracks brought to life on stage including “Big Swifty,” “Dog Breath” and “Uncle Meat” !!!!
  • Rejoice: in the joy of hearing new versions of legendary Zappa compositions including “T’mershi Duween” and “RDNZL” !!!!!
  • Revel:  in conceptual continuity contextual joy as the cover image from the original Roxy and Elsewhere album comes to life on your home television screen (including the bikini-clad “professional harlet”) !!!!!! 

OK… that is all fine and good but how does Roxy – The Movie sound and look, you ask?  

AR-ZappaRoxyNavScreen225.jpgWell, if I have one the disappointment with Roxy : The Movie is that the surround soundtrack is only available in Dolby Digital 5.1.  I do not know why they have not put the surround soundtrack on a higher resolution format such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio. That said, while it actually sounds quite good, one has to wonder if it might have sounded better… There has to be a logical reason and perhaps, it might have something to do with how Mr. Zappa mixed this music back in the day in the first place… I am assuming that the soundtrack we are hearing up with this film is based on Zappa’s mixes, but any speculation beyond that is a waste of energy (yours and mine). 

In the grand scheme of things, however, that is a relatively minor issue… we can’t really complain… We should just be thankful that we have Roxy – The Movie at all! 

The regular PCM stereo mix sounds fine, rich and warm and not too much in the way of negative effects of digitization — stereo purists will probably prefer this mode. 

The picture quality is quite good all things considered. The movie was originally shot on 16 mm film and while it generally looks clear, there were some issues the camera crews had with focus and framing, so some of this final result becomes an “it is what it is” type situation. 

AR-ZappaRoxyFZCloseup225.jpgAlso, there is a sort of airbrushed quality to the skin tones which makes me wonder if a bit of perhaps excessive digital clean up was done on the film to make it look less grainy when blown up on a big screen (this is however just a guess). The editing is stellar given that the whole thing had to be stitched together 40 years after the fact using shots from several different shows that were filmed and without the input of the man who made it in the first place: Frank Zappa. 

Roxy – The Movie is in general a more enjoyable concert to watch than Zappa’s other document from this time period, the made-for-television program “A Token of His Extreme” (which is great but suffers from overused video effects, too much zooming and hyper fast cuts, making it ultimately a less enjoyable show to watch).    

It’s also interesting to note that the Roxy – The Movie Blu-ray Disc comes with a companion CD which — it is important to note — is a different thing than the original Roxy and Elsewhere LP. In effect. this new CD is the truer soundtrack — albeit, still incomplete — to this movie.

]]>Looking back, the Roxy and Elsewhere album was a mesh of 16-track, 30-ips Roxy performances recorded by Wally Heider, as well as “road tapes” recorded in Chicago and Pennsylvania on 15-ips four-track; this album can now just stand on its own as the amazing recording that it always has been. 

AR-RoxyByProxy225.jpgBut its an important distinction for those of you who might be expecting the movie soundtrack to match the 1974 album — nope, that isn’t the case here, folks.

Curiously, the bonus CD is, as I mentioned earlier, somewhat incomplete.  Some of this I can sort of understand as one of the tunes is a quite stunning studio out-take session (that is fascinating to watch!) during the closing credits that would be sort of out of place as a listening experience on the CD. 

However, they left great tunes off the CD including the early incarnation of “Inca Roads,” “I’m The Slime,” and “Big Swifty.” I can only guess that the decision made was probably based on a matter of disc space and the desire to keep the CD+Blu-ray Disc package affordably priced (I got mine for about $25 at Amoeba Records… adding another disc would have forced a larger packaging design, more CDs to manufacture and assemble, costlier shipping charges, etc  all adding up to a pricier offering). 

AR-ZappaRoxy&Elsewhere225.jpgAll that said, the CD sounds quite good — how could it not given the generally incredible sound of the original recordings?  For the purposes of this review I compared “Be-Bop Tango” on the new CD to the version on an original 1970s pressing of Roxy & Elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the LP version gets the nod for that somewhat warmer rounder sound, but all things considered the CD sounds pretty great, full and punchy without to much in the way of harsh edges going on. So for those moments when you want to cruise around town cranking RDNZL on your car sound system, this CD will suffice just perfectly. 

While we’re admittedly nit-picking on omissions and such, apparently there is a Roxy version of “Montana” not on this Blu-ray which (according to the Wiki) has been included on the Classic Albums: Apostrophe/Over-Nite Sensation DVD so that is another one I have to pick up one of these days! 

Reviewing Roxy – The Movie has also lead me to realize that I needed to get the recently released PREVIEW album called Roxy By Proxy which presents another view of the Roxy soundtrack. This album includes a version of the aforementioned missing “Inca Roads” as well as a bunch of exclusive tunes not on this Roxy : The Movie soundtrack OR the original Roxy and Elsewhere album! I advise ordering it from the Zappa.com website because unscrupulous resellers are jacking up the price ridiculously — as much as five times the original $21 —  on Amazon.com (yikes!!). Roxy by Proxy contains other Roxy tracks not found (as far as I know) on other releases including “Dupree’s Paradise” and a medley of “King Kong,” “Chunga’s Revenge” and “Mr. Green Genes.” I can’t wait for my copy to arrive — I just ordered it as I finished writing this review. 

AR-ZappaRoxyNapolean225.jpgAnyhow, for those of you who are already converted Zappa-philes, you probably already own a copy of Roxy : The Movie by now. For those of you who never got to see Frank in concert — and for whom the three-plus hours of Baby Snakes might be just a tad too much or for whom the hyper-paced editing style of the 1974 A Token of His Extreme TV special may not appealing  — this 80-plus minute program might be just your cuppa tea. 

Get Roxy – The Movie and before you know it you too will be dancing with abandon to the “Be Bop Tango!” 

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