Frank Zappa – Dance Me This (2015)

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Dance Me This, an album Frank Zappa was working on before his death in December 1993, has become his 100th release — bringing to a close the legacy of this visionary musician that began in 1966 with Freak Out from the Mothers of Invention.

The title track on Dance Me This starts the album, and is a structured piece, filled with sound from the bass, voice-box and keys. It gradually builds, creating a flowing line of sound which abruptly ceases. “Pachuco Gavotte” is a light and bouncy number with off-beat rhythms and percussion added on the down beats, creating a lovely bouncy trippy number. It has the atmosphere of a fairground, whilst at the same time incorporating some of those odd mesmeric rhythms Frank Zappa was renowned for.

The major portion of Dance Me This, issued this month via Zappa Records, is taken up with five movements of the early, Synclavier-heavy “Wolf Harbor,” an intense piece with atmospheric variations. There is a respectful nod to the avant-garde movement proper in the fading bars, with the Synclavier holding a solitary note whilst other sounds weave around it.

Frank Zappa then develops the themes through “Wolf Harbor II” with an almost excessive use of wooden percussion and timpanic percussion. The drums offer the listener rhythmic references right the way through. “Wolf Harbor III” continues to develop the themes, adding watery sounds, drifting wails and bells, while “Wolf Harbor IV” is more percussive and the most relentlessly driving part of the piece. Finally, “Wolf Harbor V” takes the atmosphere down several notches.

Elsewhere, “Goat Polo” is almost orchestral in places with string effects and runs and trills from the keys and underneath is the charismatic singing of throat singers (Tuvan singers), adding a distinctive essence to the piece and uniting genres. “Rykoniki” has more of an established “tune,” though this is worked and developed thoroughly and almost every possible aspect of the single theme is taken, roiled and shaken up with synthetic effects.

“Piano” is intriguing and mixes the synthesised effects with some wonderful keyboard work from the piano, fusing classic with synthesised sound. The mid-section is developed into a pattern of interlinked themes which are then taken and expanded in the latter stages with percussion and synthesiser sounds, adding multi-layers until at the end the piece is far heavier than when it started.

“Calculus” is possibly the most intriguing track on this new Frank Zappa album, and combines elegantly voice, percussion and synthesised sounds. A rapid-fire theme is established early on which is mimicked in rhythm by the voice, developed by percussion and keys and all the while there is a completely different theme going on in the background – amazing music demonstrating the complex and exacting nature of its composer.

Apart from the sudden endings to many of the tracks, this album has nothing in it to irritate even the most ardent Frank Zappa fans. It uses many of his signature plays and developments, it includes rhythms associated with rock, jazz and classic music, making this a fusion of many styles, under Zappa’s synthesised and heavily worked vision.

Frank Zappa discussed the project with Guitarist magazine several months before his death, saying he was working on a Synclavier album designed to be used by modern dance groups. As such Dance Me This is different from other Zappa albums, yet has elements which are discernible from some earlier works. It’s different from Trance Fusion, for example, as it has very few discernible tunes which work around a set theme. At the same time, it has a few similarities to perhaps Civilization Phase III. Yet, it is neither of these two works and has nothing to do with Shek Yerbouti.

What makes Dance Me This discernibly Zappa is his quirky take, the way he goes about layering and intermingling of genres. All of it combines to create a multi-faceted musical journey. The album is atmospheric, diverse in its content and genre references, outer-worldly, edgy and, OK, just a little bit weird — but in a good way. Percussive interludes remind the listener sometimes of Pierre Favre and sometimes of Varese’s “sound as living matter.” Sounds interweave and interact with each other, from voice to guitar dueting with the Synclavier and percussion.

Sometimes, the sounds on Frank Zappa’s Dance Me This intertwine themselves so intricately it is difficult to discern the instrumentation apart from the Synclavier — and the rhythms would be hard to dance to. That said, it might be fun to try.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein
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