Frank Zappa: Be-Bop Tango


Bebop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen's Church)


Frank Zappa & the Mothers


Roxy & Elsewhere (Rykodisc 10520)

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Frank Zappa (guitar, spoken monologue), George Duke (keyboards, vocals), Bruce Fowler (trombone, dancing(?)), Tom Fowler (bass), Ruth Underwood (percussion), Napoleon Murphy Brock (tenor sax), Ralph Humphrey (drums), Chester Thompson (drums).

Composed by Frank Zappa


Recorded: The Roxy, Hollywood, December 10-12, 1973


Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

"Not too fast, because I want to get the right notes on the tape," Zappa advises his band before closing their set at the Roxy with a 17-minute version of "Be-Bop Tango." "This has to be the one. This has to be the one with all the right notes in it. [Pause] This is a hard one to play."

But this is more than a tough chart -- it is performance art of the highest order. During the course of this extended work, Zappa offers us intense energy jazz (with a flaming trombone solo by Bruce Fowler), pointillistic ambiance-jazz reminiscent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, crazy scat-singing courtesy of George Duke, even a dose of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." But wait, there's more! as they say in the infomercials. We also get audience participation, impromptu choreography, a bubble machine, and a classic Zappa monologue. (Typical line: "Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny.") Finally the band wraps up with a jaunty 12-bar blues.

The record label could easily have called this "experimental jazz," and it would have sold twelve copies. But disguised as rock music, Roxy & Elsewhere becomes an instant classic. But, it is also great experimental jazz. . . . Just don't tell the Zappa-philes; they might stop listening to it.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia


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