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Customer Discussions > Music forum

ZAPPA UMe Reissues: Can we talk about this?

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Showing 1-17 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 14, 2012, 10:32:34 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 14, 2012, 10:45:22 AM PST
Zolar Waka says:
I have relatively old ears, more from overexposure to high decibels for extended periods of time than for any other reason. But, I'm still able to pick out nuances from different releases following remastering.

As you may know, there have been about 60 Zappa albums "re-released" during the second half of 2012. I've only been a Zappa fan for about 20 years, so some of the recent re-issues sound pretty fresh to me. However, I'm trying to figure out how to buy to update my collection. As a general rule, I'm limiting myself to reissues of the original Analog Masters.

Apparently, with the advent of the digital age and into the 90's, Zappa may have tinkered with the original mixes for reissue through Barking Pumpkin and Ryko, editing bits out, adding drums and bass to "Cruising...", adding guitar solos from other tapes, etc. It's his prerogative, so I don't mind, but I also want to hear the original release, and I'm not going to hunt down too much vinyl, although I do have some.

The sound and mix on all of these that I've picked up have been revelatory. I will say that "Hot Rats" is a bit jarring at first as some of the percussive sounds are mixed a bit higher in parts and some of Frank's guitar is mixed a bit lower. However, being a recent Zappa fan (although a total Zappaphile), I got used to the sound of the '95 Ryko reissue of "Hot Rats" over the years. I now prefer the new reissue.

However, on "Absolutely Free" I've heard things that I've never heard before. "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" sounds amazing. As does "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and "Fillmore East - June 1971."

Of the first batch, which included everything from "Freak Out!" from '66 through "Just Another Band From L.A." from '72, I limited myself to only the ones indicated above (still have to pick up "Chunga's Revenge", but I might pass on "Just Another Band from L.A." mostly because I've heard "Billy the Mountain" enough times for now).

I've also picked up "Sheik Yerbouti" from '79 due to some early internet chatter I heard about it and it's even more brilliant now than ever before, especially the re-appearance of the final part of "I'm So Cute."

A goodly portion of the earliest albums are re-issues of Zappa's prior digital masters mostly because some of these came out as Project/Object (like "MOFO" and "Lumpy Money" and "Greasy Love Songs") based on the original analog masters. Those are available at Frank's website. Also, "Uncle Meat" is from the '93 digital master, which, hopefully means it's a future Project/Object. "Roxy" is also based on the '92 digital master, probably because there's going to be a deluxe "Roxy" release coming up soon...I hope.

Zappa embraced the digital age early, so most of the stuff from '82 on appears to be based on Zappa's digital masters, but I'm not sure if there's a demonstrable difference due to any remastering or "re-transferring" on releases as of "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch" (which I think could've used a refresher) and after.

So, what I'll do, I think, is list out the first four waves of releases here, with the source master, hoping to perhaps get a discussion going about the new releases, if they are different from prior releases, and, if so, just how. We can talk about it as a whole, or piece by piece, album by album, or song by song.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2012, 2:00:29 PM PST
onsenkuma says:
A good way to get some informed opinions on this is to go to zappa.com and check out 'Gail Sez' and the discussion board. The general idea seems to have been to get back to the sound of the original lp mixes, and a lot of fans will welcome this. I've only picked up a couple of the latest re-releases (Absolutely Free, Mothermania, Hot Rats) in part because I have the MOFO and Money boxes, but also because - as much as I love Zappa - I can't face buying them yet again! I've already got every official release and everything from the Zappa website. How much more obsessive do I need to be??? Ahhh well, I'll likely check out what they've done for some other long-time favourites like Uncle Meat, Burnt Weenie Sandwich, One Size Fits All, Sheik Yerbouti, Joe's Garage and You Are What You Is...

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2012, 4:04:39 PM PST
Zolar Waka says:
Yeah, the idea was to try to gather some informed opinions here about the discs reissued as sourced from more recent "Digital Masters." The forum on Zappa's site is pretty difficult to follow and I find it lacking for most of what I'm trying to figure out. I think I've decided to pick up all those sourced from "Analog Masters" and I'll just stay away from the rest (with the exception of "Them or Us" and/or "Ship...", hoping that maybe there's been some improvement there). I'm not going to waste my time putting the whole catalog here. I've made up my mind. Others can go on and do their thing.

Posted on Nov 14, 2012, 4:43:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 15, 2012, 8:54:40 AM PST
J. Hand says:
I am a long time Zappa fan and collector. My advice if you are a casual fan, buy the remasters and latest. Some CDs initially shortened some tracks to get albums to fit on a single CD.

Zappa was always tinkering with his music. If you can ever get a copy or two of an old Zappa fanzine called Society Pages, there was a section called "the Obsessive Analyst" in which he would take apart Zappa songs and identify them from specific concerts and dates. The point here is what you may hear as a splendid 8 minute guitar solo may be several dozen edits taken from different performances at different times all fit together for a 'perfect take'. That being said, it's why every song that makes multiple appearances on Zappa recordings is unique and why they don't get boring. It's also why it's so hard to say one is superior to another.

I have original stereo and mono LP versions of Freak Out! They are very different sounding from each other even with the same tracks. The remastered LP version that came in the Old Masters LP box was different big time. Then came the first mastering of the CD and the later re-release of the remastered CD. You can apply this to everything he released. The appeal there is, besides enjoying his music, I liked hearing Zappa's production work and hear what his ears commanded his fingers to do. This isn't something a casual fan would care for I don't think in that they prefer the better takes.

I have a huge collection of bootlegs (zappateers.com lets you join and download all manner of his unofficial recordings as well as Beefheart stuff. if you do, shoot them a few bucks donation.) Some bootlegs aren't too bad- some, well, they're bootlegs and are something only a hardcore fan could stand to listen to. With nods to Werranth, the more I learned about the Zappa the man, musician, the composer, the genius, the more his music intrigued me and the more it made a bizarre sense like a secret joke between him and his true fans. It changed my perception of a great deal of his music for me and I came to like all of it except Francesco Zappa.

Hopefully, you get what I'm saying about why it's hard to recommend his music. As for titles, I know you didn't ask this but I'd like to suggest these titles, some of which may be hard to find and a bit pricey if you do. With all of them, I'd probably go with latest release versions:

Freak Out! (the 4 CD set called The Mofo Project/Object is pretty good. there are both 4 and 2 disc sets of it. I'm not sure which the link is)
the trilogy of Shut up 'N Play Yer Guitar (There was one in a cardboard box with all three. This was all instrumental guitar music)
You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore Volumes 1 through 6 (hard to find but a superb retrospective and some great live work)
Trance Fusion (fairly recent)
Jazz from Hell (except for one track, it's all synclavier and he won a Grammy I think for best new jazz band!)

I could easily recommend them all but those will give a clear image of the man and his music and should help decide how far in you want to dive!. The releases from Zappa Family Trust and The Vault have jumped between stuff of more interest to serious fans and some scorchingly wonderful live sets. Same with some DVD releases.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2012, 6:20:06 PM PST
onsenkuma says:
@Zolar Waka,
Sorry, maybe I wasn't so helpful the first time out! Actually your idea to choose those titles sourced from the original analog masters seems the best way to enter Zappa's massive catalog. The original 2-on-1 of Lumpy Gravy/We're Only in it For the Money released by Ryko in '87 or so was a travesty. While the situation was corrected on later re-masters I really like the way it's all presented in the Lumpy Money box.

Another personal recommendation - if you don't already have it - is the three CD 'Lather' box that finally saw the light of day in the late '90s. I didn't notice this one in the re-release 'batches' announced so far. If only Frank had managed to get the 4xLp box out as planned in the mid '70s! There's a little something of pretty much everything he'd explored musically to that time, with hints at where he was going next. It would be nice to see it come out exactly as he had intended, cover art included, with an option to get it on vinyl.

Posted on Nov 15, 2012, 8:50:23 AM PST
J. Hand says:
@ Onsenkuma - Years ago I did actually manage to score the very limited 4 LP set of Lather that was released in Japan. I paid dearly for it -right at $400.00- and I still haven't opened it. Since I have it on CD and one of the original boots - the one with the Edison cover box- I doubt I ever will.

I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy of Goodnight Vienna with the hand-painted (airbrushed) center labels which I nbelieve there are onlt several hundred copies known to exist. Damn, what fun record collecting was at one time! I think I do have the 2 on 1 discs you mentioned and I didn't care for them at all. Later, Ryko put out some 3 disc sets and I have several of them that I never opened. I never followed up to see how many there were. Since it was just a repackaging of titles I already had getting them only for the packaging was not a top priority with other things out there I wanted. After we lost the only real music store we had here I no longer had the assisstance of a great crew of employees who took the time and effort to get to know their customers and would ordrer and stash away anything that fans of an artist, like me with Zappa, would want.

The Lumpy Money set is indeed very good. Another is the gold CD version of Hot Rats- VERY good sound! I do wish they'd step up the rate of things Gail and Company are releasing. I'm working with a timeline here and would like to enjoy a lot more before I go on to the next life.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012, 12:46:09 PM PST
onsenkuma says:
I hear ya! Of course the good news is that there is indeed such great stuff coming out, and I'm looking forward to the expanded 'Roxy and Elsewhere'. I've been tempted to delve into zappateers.com but haven't yet had the time. Recently I saw that someone had a copy of the 'Collected Improvisations' bootleg vinyl box on eBay. This one has always intrigued me. Have you heard it? I've got the Apocrypha box and there are some hilarious moments (Beatles parodies) on there...

Like a lot of people, I guess, I was one of those 12 year old small town in the middle of nowhere outsider types when I got Freak Out in late '67 or early '68. I picked it up because I thought the cover was kinda psychedelic and cool. Can't say that I was completely unprepared for the contents since I'd already heard Absolutely Free by then. Still...'Help, I'm a Rock'? That stuff was pretty out there, especially mixed in with all the post doo wop bits. Very cool. One of a kind, was our Frank...

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012, 12:49:11 PM PST
Zolar Waka says:
Yeah. I already have all of Zappa's albums, official or otherwise. I've passed on a bunch of the boots, mostly because they sound terrible. But, I do have some.

I'm just trying to figure out what to buy....AGAIN. I'm definitely doing Joe's Garage, Shut Up and Play Your Guitar, all the 70's stuff, and the stuff from the early 80's. All the You Can't Do That, and the Make A Jazz Noise, and Best Band You Never, Broadway the Hardway, etc....all of those I'm passing because the source for the re-release was Zappa's digital masters. Unless someone can demonstrate just how these sound better now with these 2012 reissues....can anyone do that?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012, 1:45:01 PM PST
onsenkuma says:
IMO most of the best remastering was done in the late '80s and '90s when you had people like Bob Ludwig working the desk. Enough has been said about compression and the 'loudness wars' on these threads, but I've also been unpleasantly surprised by obvious glitches in some recent remasters. Doesn't anybody actually LISTEN to this stuff before they email the files to the pressing plant??? There are good reasons for fixing certain back catalogs - parts of Zappa's included - but there seems to have been a lot of pointless 'tinkering with the tapes' going on in the past few years, and the results have often been less than stellar.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012, 2:17:29 PM PST
Zolar Waka says:
Yes, I hear you. But, most of the remastering here was actually done by Bob Ludwig.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012, 2:46:49 PM PST
onsenkuma says:
Yes, it was a pleasant surprise to see Ludwig's name on the Mothermania reissue, because he knows what he's doing. My comments weren't directed at Zappa's catalog as such - I think Joe Travers has been doing a great job digging through the vaults and polishing up what he's been uncovering - but at the issue of remastering in general and in the last few years in particular. There seem to be a lot of back catalogs going through this treatment these days that don't really need it, and it seems to be little more than a sales tactic.

Posted on Nov 15, 2012, 3:35:50 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 15, 2012, 3:36:52 PM PST
J. Hand says:
Damn ZW! Very impressive to hear you went all in on Zappa! Usually people either get right with him or it's a slow, more convoluted path where he kinda eases up on you. Always a pleasure to meet one of the former, especially in the Post-Frank era!

I think the Zappa camp has people who like to hear things with warts and all. It's like a form of audio voyeurism kind of thing. That's all well and fine but I think Zappa, himself, tinkered with his work and did all his editing and splicing to give the listener the best possible listening experience. I don't think he'd have been happy with a few releases that came out since his passing. Many were releases that are historical artifacts more than musically relevant, I believe. Zappa rehearsed the hell out of his bands to minimize mistakes and he wasn't much for spontaneous 'solo' performances by band members unless it was scripted into the larger performance. The tightness of his bands, even when improvising, are so in tune with each other it can be amazing. That's what I think his live recordings are intended to capture- a band that never gets 'lost' and can follow each other and know every twist and turn of their leader's mind; they should show a band that can play with the precision of a machine.

A lot of early concerts that have been released show all that. I think a lot more of those get put back and put off for the stuff that's again, more of a historical something or has some significance other than it sounds pretty freaking good. From what Travers and others said and from some publicity photos, it looks like the Vault contains an awful lot of material. There's got to be more of the good stuff than just what's been released so far.

BTW: Who is releasing those sets? I get emails from Barfko-Swill when something new is coming down the pike, but I haven't heard anything from them in awhile. Their site handles links to all the iTunes stuff too and iTunes I think has an exclusive on some things like the recent Penguin in Bondage: The Little Known History of the Mothers of Invention, a great recording in any case. But no word of reissues recently.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012, 3:57:40 PM PST
Zolar Waka says:
"Road Tapes" series has started. But I think it's available only at barfko swill.

I'm all for more and more, but what I never really expected was that Zappa put the best material together for the "You Can't Do That" and similar live releases. So much of what he did was put live solos on studio recordings and messed around with it so much. What did he call it? Xenochrony or Conceptual Continuity? Or a mix of both. Who knows. But, either way, Zappa gave us the best. What's left has pretty much just been full edits of those live concerts from which he culled the best solos, or warm ups like the recordings that led up to Waka/Jawaka (which by the way is part of what gave birth to my internet moniker all those many years ago when we were all just hearing about AOL).

I think his standards were so high that he probably would've never released most of that which has come out since he died. But, then again, I'm sure he wouldn't care because he wanted his music to provide for his family more than he cared about any legacy.

I like Zappa's edits, but I'm interested in hearing the way the original albums sounded when they first came out while I was in busy doing other things like soiling my diaper, playin' in the sandbox, taking spelling tests or blowin' all my allowance on death metal cassettes.

So, I also want to hear everything there's to hear from as many legitimate studio and live recordings as possible. However, I can't abide by poor-sounding bootlegs. I can't stand bad audience tapes.

Posted on Nov 15, 2012, 4:51:27 PM PST
J. Hand says:
No argument from me! We appear to agree on many things. At first I thought you were saying there was something like the Immersion sets coming out that seem to be the thing now like what Pink Floyd is doing.

BTW: One of the boots I wish was better qualty is the one where Zappa and Pink Floyd were on stage together.

Posted on Nov 20, 2012, 2:27:41 PM PST
czgibson says:
In response to the OP's request, here is a useful page on the Zappa Patio site showing what's changed on the new UMe reissues:


As it says there, it's an evolving look at what you need and what you don't.

Posted on Nov 21, 2012, 12:39:20 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 16, 2012, 1:30:48 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2012, 12:07:07 PM PST
J. Hand says:
Thanks for providing that Zappa link.
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Initial post:  Nov 14, 2012
Latest post:  Nov 21, 2012

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