Zappa Records / UMe ZR3848-1
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
In December 1971, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were appearing at London’s Rainbow Theatre when an audience member rushed onstage and pushed Zappa into the orchestra pit. Zappa suffered severe injuries, and was in a wheelchair for a year. He would not tour again until the fall of 1972, but recuperating from injuries was not something that would keep a driven, almost compulsive musician like Zappa down.
Zappa spent April and May of 1972 recording music he had composed for ensembles of various sizes, conducting the groups and playing guitar from his wheelchair. Bizarre / Reprise Records released Waka/Jawaka in July, and followed up with The Grand Wazoo in November. Both are jazz-based, and Zappa envisioned the first album, composed for somewhat smaller ensembles, as a kind of sequel to Hot Rats, his instrumental masterpiece from 1969. The front-cover illustration for Waka/Jawaka is a drawing of an antique-style sink, and the spigots are labeled “Hot” and “Rats.”
The Zappa Records 50th-anniversary vinyl reissue of the album is an all-analog remaster by Bernie Grundman, who has handled the remastering of all the vinyl reissues for Zappa Records so far. The source, according to the notes on the back cover, was the “1/4″ Analog EQ Copy Master Tape.” I compared the new pressing with a 1972 Bizarre / Reprise Records pressing.
At nearly 18 minutes, the instrumental “Big Swifty” takes up all of side 1 on Waka/Jawaka. Although the piece is played by a sextet, Zappa overdubbed the instruments—especially Sal Marquez’s trumpets—to create an arrangement for a larger ensemble. The first thing I heard when I went from the earlier pressing to this new one was how brightly the strikes on the bell of drummer Aynsley Dunbar’s ride cymbal rang out and sustained. When Marquez’s multitracked trumpet “section” enters, I noticed that Grundman had deepened the soundstage to give it and the other instruments on the track enough room to register.
On the earlier pressing, everything had been pushed forward throughout the album. Grundman has layered instruments better, which enabled me to hear the depth and subtlety of the harmonies in Zappa’s arrangement for Marquez’s trumpet parts on “Big Swifty” and on the title track. The texture of Zappa’s guitar, especially during solos, was more pronounced on the new pressing, as was his use of effects to create a distinctive tone. And for the first time, I felt I was really hearing the complexity and dynamics of Dunbar’s drumming. Marquez’s trumpet and Tony Duran’s slide guitar on “Big Swifty” didn’t crowd in on the drums the way they did on the earlier pressing.
Two tracks, “Your Mouth” and “It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal,” have vocals, and hint at the kind of commercially successful musical satire Zappa would record in the 1970s on Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe ('). Grundman’s new master let me hear the vocal interaction between Marquez and Kris Peterson on “Your Mouth” and allowed the richness of the horn parts to shine through.
The vocal harmonies on “It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal” were more discernible on the new pressing, and Zappa’s acoustic-guitar chords in support of “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow’s pedal-steel guitar solo were clearly audible. On the earlier pressing, I could hear Zappa’s strumming, but couldn’t really pick out the chords he was playing. Duran’s slide guitar and Kleinow’s pedal steel were also more clearly separated during the song’s verses.
Zappa adds reeds, trombone, and baritone horn to the arrangement for the title track. It was easier to hear and place the horn sections in “Waka/Jawaka” on the new pressing, and Don Preston’s acoustic piano sounded grander and more assertive. Preston’s Moog solo was much more vibrant and exciting on the reissue, and Dunbar’s witty and intelligent drum work throughout the piece was much more apparent. Alex “Erroneous” Dmochowski’s bass sounded flabby and indistinct throughout the album on the earlier pressing, but it was tighter and easier to follow on the reissue.
Germany’s Optimal Media pressed this release of Waka/Jawaka. The LP arrived quiet, flat, and well centered. Optimal’s quality control has been very good, in contrast with some other plants that have let things slide as the demand for vinyl production has increased. Color reproduction on the cover looked generally good on first inspection, although the back photo seemed darker-toned than the original when I compared them. The LP came in a good-quality antistatic sleeve.
Zappa Records has also released a 50th-anniversary vinyl edition of The Grand Wazoo, and after hearing this new pressing of Waka/Jawaka I feel moved to pick it up. Grundman’s handling of the Zappa catalog continues to be exemplary.
. . . Joseph Taylor