Appellate Judge Dan Mancini figures the odds be 50/50 he might just have something to say.
"It works like this: If you take any kind of a melody, I don't care if it's Hawaiian music or whatever, and you play it with a fuzz-tone guitar and a certain kind of a drum beat, people will call it rock 'n' roll. But what you've got is a Hawaiian song, so how you gonna categorize it?"—Frank Zappa
"He took different styles of music, put them together, and pointed out that there aren't really rules about them, you know? They've been set up, but we don't have to abide by them."—Billy Bob Thornton
"My first recommendation to anyone who hasn't heard Frank's music is, listen to Apostrophe (') and Over-Night Sensation because it has everything you could ever want. It's got rock, jazz, funk, the attitude, and the humor all at once."—Dweezil Zappa
In 1973, Frank Zappa assembled the third and maybe most prodigious version of The Mothers of Invention. It was a big band of terrifyingly talented and dedicated musicians capable of performing Zappa's complex arrangements with a maximum of precision, timbral variety, and personality. The 1973 version of The Mothers included jazz legend George Duke on keyboards and vocals, Ian Underwood on saxophone, Bruce Fowler on trombone, Ruth Underwood on percussion, and Zappa on guitar and vocals. They hit the road and kicked all kinds of ass on stages all over the world. Then they went into the studio and—with a little help from jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, weirdo vocalist Ricky Lancelotti, and Tina Turner and the Ikettes—recorded a heap of music that would eventually become two of the best records ever: 1973's Over-Night Sensation and 1974's Apostrophe (').
This DVD, part of Eagle Rock's "Classic Albums" series, recounts the making of the two records by assembling a few of the musicians who played on them, including Ian and Ruth Underwood and drummer Ralph Humphrey; Zappa's widow Gail and three of his four children, Moon, Dweezil, and Ahmet; Zappa fan Billy Bob Thornton (The Man Who Wasn't There); Alice Cooper, who began his career on Zappa's Bizarre Records label; Zappa guitarists Warren Cuccurullo and Steve Vai; and Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke. The documentary melds these interview segments with vintage studio footage and concert performances by Zappa and The Mothers mach III (from the Roxy and elsewhere) into a breezy 50 minutes that provide an overview of Frank's entire career, with special emphasis on Apostrophe (') and Over-Night Sensation and their important place in FZ's oeuvre.
The central thesis of the show is that Zappa wasn't a rock 'n' roll weirdo with an iconic mustache and soul patch who wrote funny songs about eating yellow snow, but an honest-to-goodness composer in the tradition of Igor Stravinsky and Edgar Varèse. To that end, the very best segments of the program feature Dweezil sitting behind a mixing board and, with the assistance of Vaultmeister and Zappa Plays Zappa drummer Joe Travers, providing close analysis of various tracks from the two records. These segments forcefully demonstrate the precision and delicacy of Zappa's compositional sensibilities. Tiny, subtle elements of performance and arrangement that might occur serendipitously for other bands (if said bands were extrememly lucky), were carefully and consciously composed, conducted, recorded, and mixed by Zappa. A prime example is a mysterioso vibraphone chord layered into the background of the mix in Over-Night Sensation's "Zombie Woof." It's the sort of thing that only tickles the subconscious of most listeners. But by adjusting its presence in the mix, eliminating it entirely on one playback and pushing it more forward in another, Dweezil shows how essential it is to the overall vibe of the song—without it, the song is still musically impressive and absolutely hilarious; with it, it's something more detailed and evocative. Multiply that little example by one hundred—or, heck, one thousand—and one begins to grasp Zappa's genius: He understood that the tiniest details (vocals sped up or slowed down; the way drums entwine with marimba; a synthesizer's timbral reinforcement of woodwinds and brass) are vitally important to one's enjoyment of a song. And he had impeccable taste when it came to melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. He was, in other words, not just a musician or songwriter, but a composer.
Frank Zappa: Apostrophe (')/Over-Night Sensation is presented in a pretty 16:9 transfer. The image quality varies by source, but all of the footage is well handled in the digital realm. Modern interview footage looks like it was shot with hi-def video equipment and is as smooth, sharp, and colorful as one would expect. Archive footage of the band in the studio and on stage is somewhat grainy but well-preserved. Compositions are sometimes slightly tight in the archive material as most of the footage is likely cropped from a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
A Dolby stereo mix is the only audio option. It's crisp, vibrant, and true to the source.
In addition to the main program, the disc contains a wide array of extras. In what amounts to a collection of deleted scenes, Dweezil offers full deconstruction and analysis of "Dirty Love," "Nanook Rubs It," and "Dinah-Moe Humm." Since his analysis is one of the highlights of the documentary, these scenes are a blast to watch. Not only do they provide excellent insight into Zappa's enormous talent, but Dweezil's appreciation of and passion for his father's music shines through, too.
A trio of complete live performances are also housed in the extras section. We get a 1973 performance of "Montana" from the Roxy, a 1976 performance of "I'm the Slime" from Zappa's appearance on Saturday Night Live (which inspired him to write "Coneheads"), and a 2006 performance of "Camarillo Brillo" by Zappa Plays Zappa, a band assembled by Dweezil and dedictated to delivering accurate live performances of FZ's work in order to introduce his music to new listeners.
"Transduce the Marimba" is a deleted interview segment in which Ruth Underwood describes the technological surgery her precious marimba had to undergo so that it could be amplified, enabling her to join the rest of the band on the road.
"Welcome to the Vault" is a brief tour of the massive collection of recorded materials left by Zappa at his death, carefully labeled and organized in the basement of his house. Vaultmeister Joe Travers—whose full-time job it is to sift through the material (much of it never listened to even by Zappa himself), ensuring it is preserved for posterity while keeping an ear out for material worth releasing to the general public—leads the tour.
A discography contains multiple pages of tiled reproductions of cover art for Zappa's massive (and still growing) body of releases from 1966's Freak Out! to the 2006 collection of guitar solos, Trance-Fusion.
Great googly-moogly! Frank Zappa: Apostrophe (')/Over-Night Sensation is a must-own for the Zappaholic, and a great introduction to the world of Zappa for everyone else.
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Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• "Dirty Love," Dweezil Dishes the Dirt
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