When Frank Zappa died in 1993, he had spent much of his remaining time and energy completing a number of projects before the end finally came. Why the majority of them are still unreleased as of late 2006 is anybody's guess, but perhaps the long awaited release of Trance-Fusion is a good sign. Trance-Fusion is another collection of guitar solos, forming something of a trilogy with the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar set and Guitar. As FZ fans know, Frank had his favorite vehicles for soloing and careful listening to the albums as a group gives you a good idea which songs these are.
Official Release #70. This two-CD set represents almost all of Frank Zappa's concert on January 20, 1976, at Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, Australia… The only problem is that there was only one reel-to-reel machine to record the concert, necessitating missing portions of several songs to change tapes; these gaps were replaced by excerpts from a pitch-corrected bootleg from the same tour, with an obvious drop in sound quality but little loss in continuity. This particular band – with tenor saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock, bassist Roy Estrada, drummer Terry Bozzio, and keyboardist Andre Lewis (in his only tour with Zappa) – has only been represented sporadically on Zappa's earlier releases.
After being thrown 15 feet off of the Rainbow Theater stage in London on December 10, 1971 by unstable concert attendee Trevor Howell, Frank Zappa spent the better part of the following winter and spring in rehearsals for what would become the Waka/Jawaka (1972) and Grand Wazoo (1972) platters and related live shows. Joe's Domage (2004) – the second in a series of never-before-available material from the luminous Frank Zappa tape vaults – gathers 50 minutes from these closed-door sessions, during which Zappa was confined to a wheelchair as he recuperated. The incident left the guitarist with some permanent damage, with a lower voice from a partially crushed larynx, and a fractured right leg which ended up shorter than the left, as referenced in the lyrics of "Zomby Woof" and "Dancin' Fool." Being off the road resulted in some of the Zappa's most involved fusions of jazz and rock.
All songs are "Clean for In-Store Play" versions. This disc was issued in a cardboard slipcase cover. A must have for any FZ fan. Released as the “Clean American Version,” this sanitized fz sampler was sent to record stores/cd shops so they could play Zappa’s music in the store without the fear of some angry Mommy complaining that the music would curve her baby’s spine. A great compilation (even if the songs have been bastardized).
Official Release #93. Conceived, Composed & Produced by Frank Zappa. The two-disc compilation of alternative takes titled Understanding America is intended for devoted fans only. It's scattershot material, tied together loosely by one theme: Zappa's acerbic mistrust of American culture. Throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s, social satire made up a huge amount of his catalog, so Big Brother, media outlets, organized religion, and recreational drugs are all subject to attack here. The gold nugget is the unreleased 25-minute "Porn Wars Deluxe," a Negativland-esque collage that pairs together samples of music with clips from the 1985 PMRC Senate hearings, for which Zappa played an integral role defending against censorship.
Not just an album of interpretations, King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa was an active collaboration; Frank Zappa arranged all of the selections, played guitar on one, and contributed a new, nearly 20-minute orchestral composition for the occasion. Made in the wake of Ponty's appearance on Zappa's jazz-rock masterpiece Hot Rats, these 1969 recordings were significant developments in both musicians' careers. In terms of jazz-rock fusion, Zappa was one of the few musicians from the rock side of the equation who captured the complexity – not just the feel – of jazz, and this project was an indicator of his growing credibility as a composer. For Ponty's part, King Kong marked the first time he had recorded as a leader in a fusion-oriented milieu (though Zappa's brand of experimentalism didn't really foreshadow Ponty's own subsequent work).