critic's pick 104

December 21. For much of the world, that translates into four days and counting until Christmas. But if you live in Baltimore, it this year became Frank Zappa Day – a posthumous honor bequeathed by the city that served as the birthplace of the great guitarist, composer and social critic.

But for the rest of us, buried as we were in 11th hour holiday stressfests, Frank Zappa Day seemed a somewhat distant celebration. But then again, the day also saw the release of a wonderful archival recording titled philly ’76 that highlights one of the least chronicled phases of the great Zappa’s touring career. Well, Happy Frank Zappa Day after all.

Recorded at The Spectrum (which closed, oddly enough, in October), the performance making up philly ’76 was given a mere nine days after Zappa’s Zoot Allures album was released. It matches him with a fearsome sextet (a vastly smaller unit than many of Zappa’s touring bands) that included future prog-pop stylists Eddie Jobson, Patrick O’ Hearn and Terry Bozzio (on keyboards, bass and drums, respectively). The show was also part of the first tour to feature longtime Zappa stage foil and co-guitarist Ray White, as well as a young gospel-based singer by the name Bianca Odin who is a catalyst for much of the jocularity on philly ’76.

Odin translates the murky 1973 rocker Dirty Love into a bit of Sly Stone style funk pumped up to near disco levels by Bozzio. A similar sense of sass dominates the vocal dervishes that drive the Zoot Allures joyride Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station.

Needless to say, Zappa himself is clearly the point of fascination here. His lighter moments, brushed with cynicism as they are, become almost vaudevillian, as in a spoken reverie about God’s “first mistake” (The Poodle Lecture) and the 1970 rock ‘n’ roll union manifesto Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink. And then there is the cover of the 1957 Cadets doo-wop hit Stranded in the Jungle that finds Zappa and his funky choristers in full song and dance mode before toppling headfirst into the Zoot Allures pop-soul of Find Her Finer.

For many, though, the strength of any Zappa live set hinges on the quality and quantity of guitarwork. On philly ’76 we get 19 glorious minutes of Black Napkins. Zappa’s introduction about playing the piece days earlier on The Mike Douglas Show suggests more levity. But what follows is a slow, solemn and meditative groove along with a headspinning solo by Jobson on violin before Zappa picks up the guitar and sends the tune to the heavens.

OK, so Dec. 21 has past. And we don’t live in Baltimore. But spend some serious time with philly ’76 and any day can be Frank Zappa Day.

(philly ’76 is available primarily through mail order. For information, go to www.zappa.com)

Viacom comes ’round to ‘Dance 360’.(Dance 360)(Brief Article)

Daily Variety February 17, 2004 | Oei, Lily Viacom Station Groups have picked up competitive hip-hop dance show “Dance 360” and skedded it for a fall bow.

In the show, dancers battle each other to win the approval of an audience seated in the round. Half-hour strip will be hosted by Kel Mitchell (“Keenan and Kel”) and actor-rapper Fredo Starr (“Moesha”). see here keenan and kel

Produced by Hat to the Back Prods., “Dance 360” was developed for Viacom’s UPN stations and L.A. independent station KCAL, which also will carry the show. website keenan and kel

“Throughout the last couple of years we’ve been looking to infuse our UPN stations with fresh, original programming,” said Dennis Swanson, exec VP and chief operating officer of Viacom Television Stations Group, “and we’re confident ‘Dance 360’ will strike a chord with our target demographic.” Distributor Paramount Domestic Television is aiming for young adult viewers in early fringe.

Show is exec produced by Claude Brooks and Ralph Farquhar.

Oei, Lily



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