A Token Of His Extreme (DVD-V)
massive re-release program which last year brought the whole, complex entity
that's universally known as "The Zappa catalogue" back to the
marketplace entailed a question of tremendous importance for all true fans
of the mustachioed Maestro: "Will those things we all know exist but
which for one reason or another never see the light of day be released,
at last?". Of course, if it's Zappa videos we are talking about, the
Holy Grail is "The Roxy video": more or less 4hrs. of film shot
in December '73, starring a very fine line-up - just check the double album
from '74 titled - that's right, you guessed right - Roxy & Elsewhere.
it would be better for us to abandon all hope: it has been said that production
costs would be so high as to make the whole enterprise implausible, due
to the enormous quantity of film. "The Roxy video", it seems,
just won't be. But it would be wrong to discount what's already there when
it comes to Zappa on video: A Token Of His Extreme is an important piece
of the puzzle - besides being a fun experience - for both serious fan and
neophyte, and a perfect point of entry for those who have been discouraged
by the sheer size of Zappa's oeuvre.
Token Of His Extreme - a pun on A Token Of My Esteem, obviously - is the
title of a TV special created by Zappa at a time when he was experiencing
"15 minutes of celebrity" thanks to charting albums such as Over-Nite
Sensation and Apostrophe ('). It was thanks to the liner notes to his album
One Size Fits All, released in Summer '75, that his fans got to know that "The
basic tracks for Inca Roads and Florentine Pogen were recorded live at KCET
TV Los Angeles during the production of our TV special". Now we know
the precise date to be August, 27.
featured here is the one that's typical from this period, which with a
certain amount of variations can be listened to on many Zappa albums, and
"pure" form on the excellent Vol. II from the You Can't Do That
On Stage Anymore series, featuring a whole concert recorded just a few weeks
after this video, and released under the title The Helsinki Concert. The
cast: Napoleon Murphy Brock on tenor sax, flute, and vocals; George Duke
on keyboards and vocals; Tom Fowler on bass; Chester Thompson on drums; Ruth
Underwood on percussion. Zappa is on guitar, vocals, and also, sometimes,
line-up has sometimes been called "Zappa's best ever", but I
don't think it needs such an exaggeration in order to be fully appreciated.
It can be said that at this time Zappa goes back to some "Blues"-based
climates and topics, with a fine timbral palette from musicians who knew
first-hand what they were doing, so that Zappa wears his humour showing
he is having fun - besides being funny. Here one can definitely breath
an R&B-flavored air, which for someone who was brought up in the 50s
definitely means "electric Blues", not "funky" - even
if heavy doses of "funk"
are here in this music, thanks especially to Chester Thompson's drumming
(but beware: he's not a one-trick-pony, as the orchestral tuning of his toms
easily shows), and George Duke's "electric" accents on vocals,
on Clavinet, and on two electric pianos, a Fender Rhodes and a Wurlitzer,
sometimes played both at the same time.
will easily appreciate Ruth Underwood's versatility and performing skills
on marimba, vibes, and assorted drums. Napoleon Murphy Brock is a formidable
stage presence, possessing an enormous amount of breath, which makes it
possible for him to perform with aplomb and finesse hard stuff on both
tenor and flute while dancing. The technically perfect Tom Fowler here
works as an anchor. Zappa sings and talks, and plays fine solos - it's
the famous Gibson SG with Bigsby off the Roxy & Elsewhere cover.
an issue of a "pragmatic" nature one has to deal with here, provided
one already owns a DVD-V from a few years ago titled The Dub Room Special:
For many years the material off the TV special had a wide illegal circulation
on VHS tape, the first official release that a portion of this music had
being on The Dub Room Special, where it appears alongside tracks off a
Zappa Halloween concert from 1981, which was later included in a more complete
form on The Torture Never Stops video.
to say that the songs that appear here for the first time are many, and
of very fine quality. The recorded sound sounds better to me - but I have
to say that my video gear is far from being hi-fi, so added detail could
also be ascribed to a skillful use of compression). I won't miss those
sonic overdubs that Zappa applied in post-production in those tracks that
first appeared on The Dub Room special - check those sounds which appear
the moment the gorilla with a clock and a hairbrush approaches the drummer.
Unfortunately, those long minutes when guitar solos are visually replaced
by Bruce Bickford's animations, a choice I never appreciated, stay the
same (but maybe I lack imagination, and so there are people who get more
bored watching Frank Zappa play guitar solos than watching animation?).
two tracks which were performed at the concert and were featured on The
Dub Room Special - Approximate and Cosmik Debris - are missing here, for
which I'm sorry: the former is a quite original piece, the latter features
one of the most beautiful solos Zappa played in the course of this concert.
Can't help you here, I'm afraid, though I have to say that watching the
(now absent) footage when wearing my "analytic hat" I seemed
to perceive a definite aroma of studio overdubbing - something which has
to do with the envelope, especially the attack, in the second part of the
tenor sax solo.
- off the band's repertoire from that time - is performed "con brio".
I'll mention the funny Stink-Foot, though in a strangely
"abbreviated" form. The long Inca Roads, with a fine George Duke
solo ARP Odyssey synthesizer, which emits a timbre that's quite Minimoog-like.
The fine The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat medley. Sure, Montana is here.
There's a fine improvised solo by George Duke which also has a sequenced
part and a dance with Napoleon Murphy Brock (which I still remember as being
part of the band's Rome concert from... almost forty years ago). Here are
Florentine Pogen, Pygmy Twylyte, Oh No/Son Of The Orange County, and More
Trouble Every Day. One can't help but notice that George Duke has great ears
- check the way that, in the last two tracks I mentioned, he "echoes" on
his Fender Rhodes some phrases that Zappa plays in his guitar solos.
a fine "bonus": Zappa's apparition on the Mike Douglas Show in
1976, where he talked about the TV special, and his new album Zoot Allures.
There's a clear conversation about the history of the Mothers Of Invention,
Zappa's non-use of drugs, his musical preferences, and so on, alongside
two other persons - I think I recognized US singer Kenny Rogers.
surprise, Zappa plugs his SG (a later copy, I think), in a minuscule, two-watt,
Pignose amplifier, and with the backing of the house band performs an excellent
version of Black Napkins, his hands in close-up (hurrah!), and lotsa thrills
© Beppe Colli 2013
| June 19, 2013