Frank Zappa: QuAUDIOPHILIAC

DTS Entertainment 69286-01125-9-9
February 2005

 

The January 2005 issue of Stereophile features an insightful commentary by Jon Iverson on how the recording industry continues to muck around in the mire of pretend surround format wars instead of just acknowledging that the population at large prefers the convenience and accessibility of anemic digital files over high-resolution, sonically outstanding recordings.

Personally, I agree with Iverson, and though we haven’t discussed it, my guess is that, like me, he’s at least somewhat disappointed that neither DVD-A nor SACD were affectively marketed to the masses, especially when there are so many pristine examples of exceptional sound quality that will be enjoyed only by enthusiasts who tune into publications like Stereophile and, of course, Stereo Times. (In Clement we trust.)

The most recent example of a classic just waiting to be missed is DTS Entertainment’s release of QuAUDIOPHILIAC, an adventurous DVD-A of Frank Zappa’s music, mixed in surround by the maestro himself, long before the technology for enjoying such advanced recordings even existed.

With production credits going to both FZ and his son Dweezil, it’s the latter who deserves credit for the remarkably fertile sound. The contents of QuAUDIOPHILIAC were discovered by archivist and Zappa vaultmeister Joe Travers, who came upon boxes of reel-to-reel, multi-channel recordings stashed in FZ’s vault. DZ and Travers then embarked on an arduous effort to transfer the original quad masters to new media, spiffing up the sonics and adding a piece of Dweezil’s own design, “Drooling Midrange Accountants on Easter Hay,” featuring his father’s voice bemoaning music business BS against a backdrop of an early take of the melody.

The Zappa Family Trust refers to QuAUDIOPHILIAC as an, “audio documentary,” depicting FZ’s impressions of select, multi-channel mixes. Not surprising, all tracks were created right around the time that Quadrophonic audio made a brief, Keystone Cop-like appearance, with record labels releasing four-channel representations of successful albums by top-grossing artists, only to be faced with the fact that hardware manufacturers gave less than two cow chips (well put -Ed.) about the format’s success. Only a handful of low-end products made it to market, boasting a signal that was sliced and diced to the point that it barely rivaled the sonic output of an 8-track tape.

Jumping back to the modern era, technology has finally caught up with Zappa’s vision, even if music and hardware companies are still drawing up sides as they fail to convince consumers that quality is at least as important as convenience. But it doesn’t matter, because the Zappa family, in conjunction with DTS Entertainment has released the perfect marketing tool to support the ever-fledgling DVD-A format.

I can’t imagine functioning music fans who won’t at the very least appreciate the sound of this disc, no matter if the music is to their liking. Zappa fans, however, are in for a sinus-clearing program. Dweezil stuck to the original quad blueprints while expanding the soundstage into 5.1 channels, adapting the original L/C/R/Rear Mono and FR/FL/RL/RR mixes to create the occasional phantom center without altering the intended scheme.

As much as the 5.1 updates adhere to the original image, there is one track in particular that not only stays pure to the original mix (FL/FR/RL/RR) with no added fifth channel, but its cumulative effect is to glue the listener’s butt to the sweet spot for nearly 12 solid minutes. Chunga Basement is a steady rolling take of a funky little riff better known as, “Chunga’s Revenge,” presented here as a quasi-jam between Zappa and three Hot Rats-era sessionists (Max Bennett on bass, British blues-rocker Aynsley Dunbar on drums, and multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood on keyboards). Much like the effect of first hearing Hot Rats’ exhilarating blend of textured jazz and rock rhythms set against virtuosic solos from all concerned, Chunga Basement points-up the chops and communication that made this line-up one of Zappa’s most memorable bands.

To paraphrase an old Monty Python line, the mix is so simple it’s brilliant, acknowledging the quartet while leaving no doubt as to who is the feature player. Zappa’s guitar solo emanates from all four channels, with percussion pounding in from all sides and keyboards firmly up front.

Originally appearing on the all-instrumental “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar” set, Ship Ahoy is simply a Zappa guitar solo supported by plenty of reverb and only sporadic visits from Andre Lewis’ keyboards and the rhythm section of Roy Estrada (bass) and Terry Bozzio (drums). It’s a wah-wah pedal used for good, not evil, creating the sense of a sonic trail that reverberates through the four-channel soundfield.

QuAUDIOPHILIAC’s focus on what many view is Zappa’s peak period required an equal sense of urgency in ensuring that the sound quality matched the promise of the set. Dweezil once again proves that he is no slouch when sitting in the producer’s chair, with an approach that is equal parts reverence and tenacity. The original mixes may belong to his father, but Dweezil is responsible for the selection and sequence, and the way in which listeners are drawn into the performance by way of the set’s overall fidelity. At no time is his talent more noticeable than on the 1972 quad remix of, Waka/Jawaka, featuring FZ backed by a horn-based sextet.

I have always thought of this piece as Zappa’s “Brilliant Corners,” a Thelonious Monk composition that baffles even the most experienced musicians. In surround, Waka/Jawaka retains the emotional impact of the original while opening the soundfield like a musty room that is aired out for the first time in 30 years. In comparison to the surround mix, the stereo track feels tight and crammed, with instruments buried way too far back on the stage. Opening the soundfield to a four-channel palate affords the musicians plenty of breathing room, with brass at times “singing” in perfect three-part harmony.

The very existence of QuAUDIOPHILIAC gives hope to the handful of listeners (myself included) who think it is too soon to say goodbye to the DVD-A format. Zappa fans will appreciate it the most, though the performance will resonate with most lovers of exciting and challenging music.

Song & Tracklisting:

1. Naval Aviation in Art?
2. Lumpy Gravy
3. Rollo
4. Drooling Midrange Accountants in Easter Hay
5. Wild Love
6. Ship Ahoy
7. Chunga Basement
8. Venusian Time Bandits
9. Waka/Jawaka
10. Basement Music #2

Artists & Technicians:

Frank Zappa: guitar and vocals; producer; original quadrophonic mixes, arrangements and recordings
Dweezil Zappa: producer; 2004 surround program engineer
Stephen Marcussen: surround mastering
Joe Travers: vaultermeisterment
Gail Zappa: executive producer; art direction

Original tracks feature any combination of:
Terry Bozzio (vocals, drums)
Adrian Belew (guitar)
Sal Marquez (trumpet, flugelhorn)
George Duke, Ian Underwood, Tommy Mars, Andrew Lewis (keyboards)
Max Bennett, Patrick O'Hearn, Roy Estrada (bass guitar)
Chester Thompson, Aynsley Dunbar (drums); Ed Mann (percussion)
And other assorted musicians and engineers.
 

Adam Sohmer




            
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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