Frank Zappa - Roxy By Product (recorded December 9 & 10, 1973, released March 2014)

"Carved in the Rock"   3:30
Inca Roads   8:21
Penguin in Bondage   5:52
T'mershi Duween   1:55
Dog Breath Variations / Uncle Meat   4:13
RDNZL   5:27
Village of the Sun   3:21
Echidna's Arf (Of You)   4:00
Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?   6:59
Cheepnis - Percussion   3:53
Cheepnis   3:35
Dupree's Paradise 15:12
King Kong / Chunga's Revenge / Mr. Green Genes   9:13
 
Total Time:    75 minutes, 31 seconds

OK, first off, you're probably wondering about that album title - it turns out I can't list the album by it's real title (see image of the album cover) because my current web host has filtering software that flags that final word as someone possibly trying to upload something malicious. So I changed it to "By Product", which is kind of appropriate as this album is a byproduct of the ongoing attempts to create a Roxy DVD.

While working on the (still unreleased as of this writing) Roxy movie, Gail Zappa and Joe Travers unearthed a ton of unreleased recordings from Frank's three night stand at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, which had been the basis for most of the Roxy and Elsewhere album. But while that album drew from other concerts as well and was overdubbed and polished to the point where it almost sounded like a studio release, this one presents the raw recordings, taken from alternate performances at the Roxy. The result is an album that shows you, warts and all, exactly what Zappa's band was capable of on stage, and how different the performances could be from night to night.

The CD booklet features extensive liner notes written by percussion god Ruth Underwood. She gives a song-by-song breakdown of each performance on the disc - what the influences were on Frank's compositional style, technical details about playing each piece and even fond remembrances of her band mates. If you're a hard-core Zappa fan, the album's worth buying just to read those notes.

But then there's the music. The fantastic, fantastic music. Ruth, with the type of self-criticism common to musicians, starts off her essay by complaining about the missed notes, "many of them mine", and saying that Frank never would have considered releasing this material. And she's probably right - he surely had enough time to release it during his lifetime if he had wanted fans to hear it. But that's the beauty of posthumous releases like this - we get to hear things that maybe the artist didn't want us to hear, but which just reinforce his brilliance.

A lot of the songs on this album were already released on Roxy And Elsewhere (not to mention You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol, 2) but these are different performances, and as mentioned above the "raw" nature of the recordings and lack of overdubs makes each musician stand out in the mix even more. Maybe it's just because she wrote the liner notes, but I swear Ruth's percussion leaps out at me on this album in a way it never has before. And while some of the performances will sound very familiar, others take the song in an entirely new direction.

After an introductory track in which Frank names each band member and has them play a brief solo, he then tells the story of UFO landing strips "carved in the rock" of the Andes mountains that inspired Inca Roads. The song starts as a lounge jazz number, with George Duke lazily singing the lyrics over schmaltzy keyboards and a mellow tempo. Eventually they reach a percussion break and you think, "OK, it's going to take off now", but nope, it's back into the lounge. But shortly thereafter it shifts into the version that we all know and love, although taken at a slightly slower pace than usual.

Cheepnis - Percussion is another revelation. What sounds like a drum solo at first turns out to be all the percussion parts of the song Cheepnis performed without any of the lead instruments. At the end of the track, Frank tells the audience what they just heard, and then launches into the full song.

We get lots of solos from everyone in the band. The line-up is nearly the same as the one listed on the original Roxy and Elsewhere album - Ruth on percussion, George Duke on keyboards and vocals, Tom Fowler on bass, Bruce Fowler on trombone, Napoleon on sax, flute and vocals, and Ralph Humphry and Chester Thompson as the dual drummers. Missing from that other album are Walt Fowler (trumpet), Don Preston (keyboards) and Jeff Simmons (guitar) - I guess they were on the "Elsewhere" portion. We get to hear the above musicians play various solos throughout the album and then really stretch out on Dupree's Paradise and the closing encore medley of King Kong, Chunga's Revenge and Mr. Green Genes.

I really hate the phrase "no brainer", but this one's a no brainer for Zappa fans. You need it. Fortunately you can just buy it from the Zappa web site for an exorbitant fee (over $20 for a single CD, plus shipping). I guess they're trying to raise money to complete the Roxy movie, since the original scheme of selling people the rights (for several thousand dollars) to sell this album for them didn't pan out.

Album Cover

Image of the Roxy By Product album cover