Frank Zappa - Trance-Fusion (recorded 1977-1988, released 2006)

Chunga's Revenge   7:01
Bowling on Charen   5:03
Good Lobna   1:39
A Cold Dark Matter   3:31
Butter or Cannons   3:24
Ask Dr. Stupid   3:20
Scratch & Sniff   3:56
Trance-Fusion   4:19
Gorgo   2:41
Diplodocus   3:22
Soul Polka   3:17
For Giuseppe Franco   3:48
After Dinner Smoker   4:45
Light Is All That Matters   3:46
Finding Higgs' Boson   3:41
Bavarian Sunset   4:00
Total Time: 61 min, 34 sec

This album was the third installment that Frank put together for the series that began with Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar and continued with Guitar. This was one of the last albums that Zappa himself created before his death, but for some reason the Zappa Family Trust sat on it for over a dozen years before finally letting it escape the vault with absolutely no fanfare. No one knows what the hold-up was, and Gail's typically obtuse liner notes certainly don't explain anything. But it's out at last, and it's even available through normal channels (Amazon carries it, and I got my copy through Deep Discount CD. I even saw a copy in a Borders bookstore, although it was massively overpriced like all their rock CDs are).

How does one review a collection of guitar solos? Well, the most succinct (and maybe the best) stab at it came from someone on the Zappa newsgroup, who's entire review was "It's a guitar solo album. It sounds like Frank Zappa. It doesn't sound like Joe Satriani". And there's really not much more I can say about it, other than to provide some factual info.

Trance-Fusion compiles a selection of guitar solos from the 1984 and 1988 tours, with two refugees from 1977 (Bowling on Charen) and 1979 (Ask Dr. Stupid) thrown in for good measure. Of the rest, tracks 3, 5, 10, 12 and 14 come from 1984. The rest are all from Zappa's final rock tour with the big 1988 band.

The music is entirely instrumental. As with the other guitar albums, Frank just extracted the guitar solo section of various songs from concert performances, gave the solos their own names and edited them all together to sound like one hour-long, continuous jam. The one exception is the opening track, Chunga's Revenge, which contains the entire song (although it's mostly guitar solo anyway). Unlike the original Shut Up album, there are no little dialog snippets between solos to break things up. And like the Guitar album, the tone and texture of the tracks is a little too "samey" throughout. However, there are some variations like heavier, more aggressive tracks alternating with lighter, more melodic stuff. The switches from 1984's very electronic sounding drums to 1988's acoustic set also helps change things up a bit.

There were some rumors floating around the internet at the time of the disc's release that the sound quality was sub-par. Those rumors were apparently based on low-bandwidth audio samples that someone had heard on the web, because the sound quality of the CD itself is excellent. If you've heard the other live albums from 1988, you know how good Zappa's live recording set-up was. The only semi-questionable track from a sound quality perspective is Ask Dr. Stupid, which has an odd, static-like, clicking noise that is occasionally audible. At first I thought it was a defect, but then I started to wonder if it was a by-product of the electronic drums. Turns out that was exactly the case, as confirmed by the vaultmeister on the FZ newsgroup. Still, the odd noises don't seem to be in synch with the beat of the music, which makes the track a little difficult to listen to, especially via headphones.

Highlights, for this listener, include the opening seven-minute Chunga's Revenge, a song which seems to be cropping up frequently on recent releases, but hasn't outworn its welcome. The more relaxed tracks, like After Dinner Smoker and Bavarian Sunset are also early front-runners for my favorites. As I think I mentioned in my write-ups for the other guitar albums, hearing guitar solo after guitar solo without the context of the songs the solo came from isn't really my thing (not being a guitar player or any sort of musician myself), so these guitar-fest albums aren't my favorites. Still, it's Zappa, and it makes for decent background music at work, so I'm glad I got it.

Part of the fun of these guitar albums is trying to figure out where the title came from. Some of them, like Scratch & Sniff just seem to describe the music. Good Lobna is a reference to a Simpsons episode, where Bart is trying to impress a girl by complementing her choice of exotic food. Finding Higgs' Boson is a description of what scientists are trying to do with the huge atomic super-colliders. I tried to read a couple web pages about exactly what Higgs' Boson is (something to do with a theoretical particle which gives electrons, protons and neutrons their mass), but even the "simple, one-page explanation" went way over my head.

Another challenge is to try to determine which song each solo comes from. I was just proud of myself for figuring out that Ask Dr. Stupid came from a performance of Easy Meat. Since a "leaked" copy of the album has been floating amongst tape traders for around a decade, I'm pretty sure the super-fanatics have figured out not just which song each solo comes from, but which exact performace. The info is probably available on the web somewhere. Personally, I'm glad I never traded anyone for a bootleg copy of the album (although I was sorely tempted to on more than one occasion), because now I have a brand-new (to me) official release that I can fetish over for a few weeks.

Album Cover

Image of the Trance Fusion album cover