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Roxy By Proxy
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Audio CD, April 21, 2017
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Roxy By Proxy contains material recorded live at the infamous run of shows at The Roxy Theater in Hollywood CA, December 1973. It's the first compilation made from digital mixes created in 1987 by Frank with Bob Stone at FZ's home studio, The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen. The sequencing plays like a full show while the package features extensive liner notes from the one and only Ruth Underwood, then the percussionist in the band.
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- Roxy & Elsewhere (henceforth R&E), Zappa's own 1974 release which features several tracks from these performances (and others with similar personnel) with various degrees of post-production added
- Various tracks scattered among the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series (e.g., I'm the Slime and Big Swifty from Vol. 1)
- A 30 minute video of Montana and Dupree's Paradise posted by the Zappa Family Trust in 2013 and available for free on their Web site
Pending the release of the complete filmed performances (three concerts in all, apparently), this new Roxy by Proxy (henceforth RBP) CD is the next best thing. It adds to what's already available by compiling several previously unreleased tracks from the Roxy weekend, making it a "partial sound track" to the promised video. About half the songs/tunes are also present on R&E (in different performances of course). And most of the rest (Uncle Meat, RDNZL and Dupree's Paradise) also crop up on Volume 2 of You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, which documents a September 1974 Helsinki concert with the same band minus Bruce Fowler and Ralph Humphrey. That leaves a couple novelties, which I'll discuss below. But one way of looking at RBP is as a collection of bonus tracks/alternate takes to R&E. Another important difference is that R&E is a quintessential "produced" Zappa album -- it takes live performances as source material, but then subjects them to FZ's indefatigable post-production tinkering: editing and splicing, overdubbing, etc., the stereotypical FZ caffeine/nicotine-fueled perfectionism. RBP, on the other hand, is pure live tracks, with just enough editing and balancing to simulate listening to a single entire set, complete with introductions, banter, farewell and encore.
Now for some selected highlights. Inca Roads features George Duke on lead voice, one of the first songs where Zappa entrusted this role to him. After a "Great American Songbook" style slow introduction with lyrics referring to Chariots of the Gods and the Nazca terraglyphs, the tempo picks up and Duke delivers the patter text amid time signatures in 5s and 7s. Duke then takes the first instrumental solo on synth, followed by Bruce Fowler on trombone. Fowler's solo doesn't mesh so well with this arrangement, which demands quickness and agility, two qualities not necessarily associated with that instrument. Fowler nails the ensemble parts though, and his soloing talents are better represented on RDNZL (or the Be-bop Tango that concludes R&E). After the trombone solo, Underwood's chops are on display (using only two mallets) along with Duke's tongue as the vocal refrain is reprised.
RDNZL, a comparatively straightforward rock improv tune, has a short but fluent Fowler trombone solo, followed by an extended Zappa solo. Brock gets in some sax licks, followed by a monophonic Duke synth solo. The ensemble section that comes next features several more Underwood mallet runs and tremolos. This is the band sound you've got to love in order to love the Roxy period. Echidna's Arf (of You) has a section in a fast five, again showcasing the fluency of Duke's fingers and Underwood's hands, with the other ensemble players also getting into the act of this energetic piece.
Cheepnis-Percussion is one of the two RBP novelties (songs without versions on the other albums cited above). Zappa introduces it as "the rhythm track of the next song: a Little More Cheepnis Please", and indeed Cheepnis proper does follow at a slower tempo than its introduction. The RBP Cheepnis is quite distinct from the overdubbed version on R&E. Further complicating the picture is the completely redone studio performance with backing vocals that's documented in a short video released in 2013 by ZFT and available from iTunes. Zappateers disagree over whether any of that version was spliced into the eventual R&E version.
Dupree's Paradise wraps up the (pre-encore) set. This version is distinct from the Roxy performance of Dupree's Paradise, bundled with Montana, that's documented in the aforementioned half-hour video. As an encore, the band plays an appealing medley of King Kong, Chunga's Revenge and Mr. Green Genes, which comprises (along with Cheepnis-Percussion) the other novelty of the album.
The title "Roxy by Proxy" alludes to the album's unusual distribution process. ZFT sells distribution licenses to individuals, who are then authorized to sell the factory-pressed CD with stock packaging and a 32 page booklet with a fine essay by Ruth Underwood, the only female instrumentalist that Zappa collaborated with for an extended period. Distributors can create their own CD labels, but the rest of the material is standardized. The hope is for the proceeds of the distribution licenses to fund completion of the Roxy videos.
If you're a Zappa fan and you're reading this review, then you probably already own or have heard R&E and YCDTOSA2. If you can't wait to gallop through as much Roxy period Zappa as you can, or if you'd enjoy having a kind of "making of Roxy and Elsewhere" album, then RBP is for you. If you're a more casual Zappa fan, get those two albums first, then wait a bit and see if the full Roxy performances materialize in an affordable video offering.
Splendid, pure and simple.
Yes perhaps so, and most of the tunes are almost unrecognizable for the ones you already know.
The musicianship, solos, fills & grooves are totally over-the-top mind blowing.
This is a MUST for any true FZ fan, buy or die!