Frank Zappa - Roxy By Proxy

3 years ago I wrote about Frank Zappa's Roxy & Elsewhere album for Ripple ( Right after that review came out it was announced that the Zappa family was planning to release more music from the shows recorded at the Roxy in December, 1973 and that video footage would be also released. The concert footage is still to come but earlier this year they put out 75 minutes of unreleased performances and, holy shit, they are good. 

The Roxy era band was one of the very best Zappa ever had. The twin powerhouse drumming of Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson combined with Ruth Underwood's insane percussion drove the band like no other. Combine that with the ultra funky George Duke on keyboards, the insane soul vocals of Napoleon Murphy Brock, the rock solid bass playing of Tom Fowler and his brother Bruce's wild trombone playing and you've got a helluva band. Oh yeah, this line up also inspired some of FZ's best guitar playing.

Roxy By Proxy starts off with a version of "Inca Roads" that's drastically different from the one that would wind up on 1975's One Size Fits All. This 73 one is loungey and George Duke's singing the lyrics like he's Mel Torme. It's a little disorienting hearing such a weird version of one of his all time classics. It eventually crashes into "Penguin In Bondage" that's similar to the one released on the original Roxy album. It's followed up with killer instrumentals of "T'Mershi Duween," "Dog Breath/Uncle Meat" and "RDNZL." Alternate versions of Roxy classics "Village Of The Sun," "Echidna's Arf (Of You)," and the major drum freak out of "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing" that segues into an all percussion version of "Cheepnis." Then they play the vocal version of "Cheepnis" to really bug everyone out. The last 25 minutes of the disc are even better than the previous 50. There's a killer version of "Dupree's Paradise" where George Duke really gets down and then a massive medley of "King Kong," "Chunga's Revenge," and "Mr. Green Genes." Goddamn, this band could play! 

Also released this year is another show from August, 1973 with a similar line up. There's only one drummer, Ralph Humphrey, but they're joined by Ian Underwood on bass clarinet and synthesizer and Jean Luc-Ponty on violin. The double disc called Road Tapes is a rough, soundboard tape and it's fascinating to compare it to the December recordings from the Roxy. Some of the material is repeated but the arrangements are totally different. This line up is more jazz oriented and they really stretch out the arrangements to showcase the soloing of Ponty and Duke. 

Early to mid-70's is a real peak in Zappa's catalog. In 1972 he released the incredible big band albums The Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka. Over-Nite Sensation came out in late 73 while Apostrophe (') and Roxy and Elsewhere came out in 74. There are plenty of bootlegs and semi-legit live recordings documenting all the bands and it's wild to consider just how much music this guy created in such a short period of time. And it's not like he stopped there, either, but this has been some of my favorite music for 35+ years and I'm still discovering cool shit in these jams. 
- Woody

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