ZAPPA IN NEW YORK: IRREGULAR RHYTHMIC GROUPINGS

While 1971 ended with physical disaster, 1977 saw the start of litigational warfare, with Zappa's main business associates becoming his enemies. The relationship with his record company Warner Brothers had become under strain and Zappa wanted to end his contractual obligations by delivering the tapes for the four records he was still due at once. But Warner Bros. refused to pay the agreed advances for these records at one time, nor did they set off releasing them in time. A lasting lawsuit followed, interacting with the running lawsuit about Discreet with Cohen, since Discreet was a label of Warner Bros.
Subsequently Zappa went negotiating a new contract for releasing this material, now in the form of a four record set called "Läther". In October 1977, when the first "Läther" boxes already had been pressed, Warner Bros. decided to release the material handed over to them anyway as the originally planned individual records, one live album "Zappa in New York", and three studio albums "Studio Tan", "Sleep Dirt" and "Orchestral Favourites". For "Zappa in New York" Zappa had handed over the material for the album cover, but there was no cooperation whatsoever for the studio albums. They were released in a sloppy way with low budget cartoon covers and no promotion. It enraged Zappa and he publicly uttered his anger with setting up a "Warner Bros. sucks" banner on stage and stating the same on record. Squeezing out a contract once the relationship is ended is regrettably common practice in rock business though and things far worse have happened to other artists. In 1997 the "Läther" version collection was released on three CDs. Unfortunately these issues don't overlap for 100%, so you still have to buy them both to be complete. The lawsuits were mainly settled behind closed doors, when Zappa was given the opportunity to buy the copyrights from Warner Bros. and the mastertapes of his recordings were handed over to him in 1982. It led to a unique situation, where a well-known rock musician became completely in control over his business.

Zappa loved playing in New York and rented an apartment there from 1967 to 1968, when he recorded a vast amount of music for "We're only in it for the money" through "Uncle meat". His return to L.A. was financially motivated. Various live albums were recorded in New York and the yearly concerts around Halloween became famous for the interaction with the crowd. More in the next section about "Baby snakes".

Midtown New York (photo KS). The Palladium was a famous disco in downtown New York. Zappa used quite a lot of tracks recorded in its concert hall, because the big cities had the better recording equipment for rent. In the eighties Zappa would buy his own mobile studio truck. In the nineties the heyday of the Palladium came to an end when it made place for student apartment buildings.

ZAPPA IN NEW YORK, PALLADIUM, DECEMBER 1976.

We'll take "Zappa in New York" and some other albums to look at examples of Zappa's appetite for rhythmic variation. His desire for rhythmic diversity is very persistent in his music. The early "Run home slow theme" from above is already a clear example. When you look through the examples in this study you'll see bars with normal divisions in three or four (like the "Strictly Genteel" example, Counterpoint #2 section) as well as bars with odd divisions and syncopes (like "It must be a camel", Hot rats section, and the "Eric Dolphy memorial party", Burnt weeny sandwich section). In the polyrhythmic "What will this evening bring me this morning" example of the Emotional dimension subpage, the changing rhythm of the melody, sung over 4/4, is reflecting the lengths of the syllables of the words.
Zappa has frequently addressed to his rhythms as speech influenced, meaning that the rhythms aren't calculated, but following a free movement comparable to spoken language. Sometimes the speech influence is direct, when a melody is adapting its rhythm to the lyrics sung along with it. This is very recognisable in "Evelyn" from "One size fits all" and the live improvised recitatives "The dangerous kitchen" and "The jazz discharge panty hats" from "The man from Utopia", with the guitar part later added to it in the studio. Next is a sentence from "Wild Love" from "Sheik Yerbouti" (see also the disco section for this melody). The rhythm as well as the melody is influenced by the accents of the words. On paper Zappa's rhythms can sometimes look strange, but when you listen to them, they sound more natural. In the case of instrumental pieces and guitar solos the speech influence is indirect, as if the instruments are trying to talk to you without words.

Phrase from Wild love (transcription)

On "Zappa in New York" the 1976 band performed an instrumental piece full of irregular rhythmic groupings, called "The black page #1", originally a test piece for drummers, to see if they were able to beat this kind of rhythms, like:

The black page #1, bar 4 (notes)

"The black page" is rhythmically as well as harmonically very irregular, but it also contains elements that bring stability to it:
- The meter is 4/4 throughout,
- The same scale is used at least for the duration of one bar,
- There's a tendency to alternate speeding up and slowing down,
- In some bars the melody from former bars is repeated.
The next examples contains the two opening bars and bars 16 and 17 (1:53 till 2:00 and 2:52 till 3:00 on track 4 of disc two), where the rhythm of the first two bars, including triplets and a quintuplet, is exactly repeated by a different melody. When you take the opening bass notes in these bars as key notes, the melody in these four bars is using:
bar 1: G Lydian
bar 2: B flat Lydian
bar 16: D Lydian
bar 17: G flat Lydian.
(Previous editions had Eb for bar 17, after relistening: it's Gb. Bar 18 does begin with Eb, moving to F). "The black page drum solo" has exactly the same rhythm as the "The black page #1". On the album Terry Bozzio's drum part is doubled by Ruth Underwood on percussion, probably overdubbed. She is using cowbells, that have vague pitches. So there is some implied melody present in "The black page drum solo" album version as well, here improvised by Ruth. Terry is doing some extra ticks on the hi-hat, that aren't prescribed, as if he is directing himself. The "Black page" and "Manx needs women" (further below) not only contain various forms of irregular groupings, but also examples of irregular groupings within irregular groupings. Bar 5 from the "Black page drum solo" example contains a triplet that gets subdivided into two quintuplets and one sextuplet. Bar 3 from "Manx needs women" shows a triplet within a quintuplet.

The black page #1, bars 1-2 (midi file)
The black page #1, bars 16-17 (midi file)
The black page drum solo, bars 1-5 (midi file)

The black page #1, bars 1-2 and 16-17 (notes)
The black page drum solo, bars 1-5 (notes)



Advertisement sample of the Black Page #1 score, including the above examples. Available at Barfko Swill.
The indicated 2-chords aren't played that way on any performance, only the root bass notes are taken over as pedal notes.


Manx needs women, opening (midi file)

Manx needs women, opening (notes/transcription).
Bars from Can I help you with this dummy, Filthy habits, Yo' mama and Get whitey (notes/transcription).

"And for our next number", to quote Zappa, another piece with irregular groupings from "Zappa in New York", called "Manx needs women". Other than "The black page", this composition doesn't follow scales. It's atonal, full of dissonants and contains changing meters. The figures with irregular groupings in bars 1-4 are played in the form of parallel major 7ths. The opening bars in 4/4 are played slowly, followed by fast strings in 7/16. "Manx needs women" is one of the most aggressive pieces Zappa ever wrote, quite different from the friendly "I promise not to come in your mouth" or the traditional blues of "Big leg Emma".
The other examples of irregular groupings above, to be found in many Zappa compositions, are bars from four compositions from 1971 through circa 1990.
a) The first is one of the many parts of bar 27 of "Can I help with this dummy". This composition was intended for inclusion in the "200 Motels" soundtrack of 1971, but fell off due to performing difficulties. The complete orchestra score in Zappa's own handwriting is included in the The Frank Zappa Songbook Vol. I. It became included in the suite version of 200 motels and received its first performance during the Holland Festival of 2000 at the Carré theatre in Amsterdam.
b) Next is a bar from "Filthy habits" from "Sleep dirt" with a sextuplet. See the previous section for more of this piece in the 1988 version.
c) A bar from "Yo' mama" with improvised irregular groupings. See also the Shut up 'n play yer guitar section.
d) A bar from "Get whitey". In the nineties Zappa would take irregular groupings into more extreme forms as in this synclavier composition. This by itself already odd 23-tuplet also has notes of unequal length within it. See the Synclavier #2 section for more.
The Roxy section contains a table with all examples in this study containing irregular groupings, specified in the last column.

"Titties and beer" from "Zappa in New York" has a two bar rhythmic riff in F# Dorian, including the use of pauses. The first bar is on beat, the second syncopic. The second theme of the song is more melodic, using a chord progression in B Mixolydian. This second theme thereafter turns into a vamp, that is played as accompaniment for the dialogue of a biker (Zappa) and the devil (Terry Bozzio). This was Zappa's usual way for recording pieces with monologues and dialogues, like the "Central scrutinizer" intro of "Joe's Garage", and much of "Thing-Fish".
The opening riff of "I promise not to come in your mouth" is an early example of so called hocketing, leading a melody over various instruments.
- Bar 1: in this bar, played four times, the melody is led over six staffs. Because various notes are held you get all sorts of harmonic combinations. He would apply this a lot in the later synclavier works.
- Bar 5: transitional bar with a bass lick and the keyboard improvising.
- Bars 6-7: a chord progression, Dm-F-G-Dm-G-Eb-Em. The last chord is held for a bar with the keyboard improvising.
- Bars 8-10: second theme. The scale in bar 9 changes shortly to D minor. Again the ending chord is held for a bar, again with the keyboard improvising.
- Bars 11-12: variation upon the second theme. Its lead melody is the same, but the accompaniments, especially the ending chord, are different.
"I promise not to come in your mouth" is a sensitive instrumental ballad (Zappa's own words) in 6/4 in the key of C minor, introducing two short but fine solos. One by Zappa on guitar, the other just as strong by Eddie Jobson on keyboard.

Titties and beer (midi file)
I promise not to come in your mouth (midi file)

Titties and beer (transcription)
I promise not to come in your mouth (transcription)

For the Palladium concerts Zappa returned to his 1974 composition "Approximate" in a quite different shape. Here he made use of a second "Approximate" sheet he had written, that only in some bars goes similar to the 1974 version. It's presented below. What you hear on "Zappa in New York" is yet another version of "Approximate", namely a combination of bars taken from the 1974 version and this second sheet as well as some bars of its own. The second half of the 2nd sheet went unused for the album version. This section of the 2nd sheet includes bar 20 with irregular rhythmic groupings and gets played below in the midi file. To make things in this complex composition even more untraceable, the album version gets preceded by and partly played over a bass theme, called "The purple lagoon".

The purple lagoon/Approximate, theme (midi file)
Approximate 2nd sheet, second half (midi file)

The purple lagoon/Approximate, theme (transcription)
Approximate 2nd sheet (notes)

Whereas the three Halloween concerts at the Felt Forum where done with the five piece band of 1976, for the four Palladium concerts in the last week of 1976 Zappa augmented the band to 12 members, adding a brass section and two percussionists. Five people get a chance to play a solo on "The purple lagoon", including Zappa himself, who added a studio guitar solo to the live tracks. The others are doing fine, just for the fact that they don't get outplayed by Zappa. To promote these extra concerts, the band appeared on the Saturday Night Live show. "The purple lagoon" was played that night as well. Apart from some instrumentational differences, the notable divergence between the two executions is that the bass during the Saturday Night Live performance doesn't fade out at the end as in the transcription above, but returns to the "Purple lagoon" theme one more time. This happens at bar 9 in the transcription, thus not coinciding with the repetition of bars 1-3 of the "Approximate" theme. The combinations of bars ("The purple lagoon" versus "Approximate") herewith becomes different. Maybe the two Saturday Night Live shows Zappa did will be available one day via a ZFT release. You can get them via other channels, but I'm not sure if they are legal. Why the bass at the end of the above midi file example is drawing back is by itself not clear. For playing this part separately it sounds more complete in the Saturday Night Live version. A possible reason can be that the bass didn't pause here during the actual life performance, but that Zappa mixed it out for some bars to let it be able to re-enter in another manner for the solo part. This solo part sets off with everybody well into it right away. Probably Zappa skipped the introductory bars and a pause in the bass line, the bars before, avoids a caesura to become too big. On Saturday Night Live the solo part begins with Terry Bozzio playing several drum bars, while John Belushi enters as a deranged be-bop singer.