Rarely have I watched DVDs which satisfied me on so many levels as “Zappa Plays Zappa,” a two-DVD set released in 2008 on the Muppy Productions label. In fact, my mind was blown on so many levels that it was hard to find the right superlatives!
Spearheaded by Frank Zappa’s son, Dweezil, this project was apparently inspired by his desire to share more of his father’s music with the public. Suffice it to say that he has done so in a manner which would have made his father (1940-1993) very proud.
During a nine-minute bonus feature interview found at the end of Disc Two, Dweezil (1969-) indicated that one of the biggest challenges was to find the right group of musicians to complete the project. He did!
Dweezil assembled a group of seven other players and singers who appeared to be able to perform anything, including classics from his father’s oeuvre including “I’m the Slime,” “The Torture Never Stops,” “Zomby Woof,” and “Montana,” just to name a few. Disc Two also contains “Cheepnis.”
These live performances were probably taped from concerts in Portland and Seattle during 2007. At a combined running time of nearly four hours over two discs, viewers and listeners definitely won’t feel cheated.
Another nice feature was the participation of three musicians from the “old days,” who had played these tunes with Frank. Lead vocalist and tenor saxophonist, Napoleon Murphy Brock (1945-) was one of the aforementioned eight members of the core group. Guitarist Steve Vai (1960-) and drummer Terry Bozzio (1950-) joined in at different points during the shows, bringing the total number of players to 10.
Frank Zappa’s music defies easy categorization. I suppose that it’s a heady amalgamation of Rock, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, and Pop, which forms a zany, irreverent, satirical, yet always “entertaining” type of music. It’s also music which places extreme demands on the players as individuals and as an ensemble, with frequent meter and key changes. I sometimes feel that it’s as if Frank wanted to see how many technical “hoops” his players could navigate. While impressively executed, I can’t honestly say that I’m “moved” by it, in the main. No matter. The privilege of seeing this music played this well is its own reward. I can recommend these discs to anyone who appreciates great playing, not to mention Zappa fans.
Although the Fret Cam on Dweezil’s guitar didn’t add much in my opinion, this was a topnotch production with fine camerawork, including the use of split screens. In addition, there were choices available between PLM stereo and surround sound.
This set is a true feast for the eyes and ears, and I give it the highest possible recommendation. I’ll say it again: Papa Frank would have been proud!