Housed in a circular tin shaped like a NYC manhole cover, the expanded edition of Zappa in New York commemorates the 40th (technically 41st) anniversary of the original live double album released in March 1978 on Zappa’s DiscReet label. This deluxe 5-CD boxed set (and 3-LP 180-gram vinyl set) documents four sold-out shows held at The Palladium between Christmas and New Year’s of 1976. The 15-month gap between the live recordings and the album release had to do with Warner’s fear of a lawsuit by Punky Meadows, the subject of the song “Punky’s Whips.” The lineup for the performances includes Zappa’s core group augmented by a crew of NYC ringers in baritone sax ace Ronnie Cuber, Saturday Night Live house band members Lou Marini on reeds and Tom “Bones” Malone on trombone, and the tenor sax-trumpet tandem of Michael and Randy Brecker, whose disco flavored funk-fusion third album, Don’t Stop the Music, was riding high in the R&B charts at the time of this recording. Given the extended horn solos and free-blowing nature of this band, these live performances represent Zappa’s jazziest outing since 1972’s The Grand Wazoo.
Remastered by Bob Ludwig, who used the stereo mixdown tapes and transferred every reel at 24/96, Zappa in New York: 40th Anniversary Deluxe features so many newly discovered nuggets from the vault that it’s a must for completists.
While showcasing the leader’s typically audacious sense of humor (“Punky’s Whips” and “I Am the Slime,” featuring cameo appearances by SNL announcer Don Pardo, are among the zanier cuts), the set also includes several “difficult listening” instrumentals that showcase Zappa’s compositional prowess, including “Penis Dimension,” “Cruisin’ for Burgers,” and “The Black Page #2.” And there’s no shortage of singular, toe-curling FZ guitar solos, as demonstrated on extended live versions of “The Torture Never Stops,” “The Illinois Enema Bandit,” “Montana,” and others.
Encouraged by Zappa to stretch out with impunity on these live performances, the horn players respond with jazzy abandon. Michael Brecker unleashes a torrential downpour of notes in his jaw-dropping tenor solo on an epic 28-minute “Black Napkins,” which also includes a bright, swaggering trumpet solo from brother Randy and a brilliant electric violin solo from ex-Roxy Music member Eddie Jobson. On a 17-minute version of “The Purple Lagoon” (from the original two-LP set), the late saxophonist delivers a ferocious, pulse-quickening tenor solo that his brother follows with a tweaked trumpet solo imbued with eerie harmonizer effects. On an unreleased live version of that same tune, Malone slowly develops a superb trombone solo laced with intricate triple tonguing while Cuber wails with blowtorch intensity on his bari, recalling his days in the George Benson organ quartet a decade earlier. An added treat here is an alternate take of Zappa’s complex, through-composed percussion-based piece for drummer Terry Bozzio, “The Black Page #1.”
With previously unseen photos from the vaults and extensive liner notes from Zappa band members Ruth Underwood and Ray White, the accompanying 60-page booklet provides new insights into the genius of FZ.