Sunday, 4 February 2018

Soft Machine "Third"

Miles Davis had jazz musicians attempting to play rock style music and The Soft Machine here offer the reverse; rock musicians essaying jazz-style music. In my view, the rock musicians win. There is more of interest occurring in this record than in Miles' "Bitches Brew" lp.

The album opens with the fingernails down a blackboard sounds of Mike Ratledge's keyboards being played through a fuzzbox and straight away we are worlds removed from the tasteful sounds of jazz-lite. This is followed by some skronking on the sax from Elton Dean before bass and drums join in and then there is an abrupt cut to what sounds like a different recording establishing the main theme of the piece. Robert Wyatt contributes some wordless vocals as well as accompaniment on drums. Then another cut into a faster riff section which includes additional sax playing. At this point Elton Dean briefly interjects the Laurel and Hardy theme. Feedback hovers ever present in the background, Elton Dean overblows on his sax causing his tuning and pitch to fluctuate. Then a cross fade into a whole new section featuring rhythmic cymbal useage to the front before this too fades into an organ drone and flute solo. The band then return playing over a simple bass riff becoming more strident. Next comes a section featuring tape manipulation involving speeding up and slowing down some sections and playing some backwards before a fade as the track ends.

Side 2 starts with a bass riff overdubbed with some harmonics before the twin horns come in to establish a theme while the harmonic and rhythmic centre of the piece shifts. Eventually the riff changes into a faster, more propulsive mood, enhanced by Robert Wyatt's cymbal work, and accompanied by a flute. A piano appears for the next theme, its chordal work echoing the earlier bass riffs. A further sudden edit brings in a relaxed theme with again cymbals to the fore while Ratledge appears to have located the volume control on his keyboards and has actually turned it down so it is not feeding back all the time. In fact, this is a nice and gentle reflective piece. Some quicker syncopation follows with sax and drums playing off against each other. The fuzz organ returns to see off the end of the piece with a nice flourish.

Side 3 is taken up by Robert Wyatt's "Moon in June" which may be the most structured composition on the album but is difficult to describe. There are a number of interlinked themes which occur but which also shift. A number of different performances of this song that the Soft Machine did suggest that the structure of the song was not fixed and that different sections were added or taken away from the piece as performance dictated. Similarly, the lyrics to the piece changed with performance which fits with Wyatt's conversational writing style. As with the other tracks on this lp. there are a number of sudden and severe edits into different themes and different instrumentation. Apparently, the final version of the song was assembled from a number of different recordings Wyatt made, sometimes just accompanying himself on all the instruments and sometimes along with Ratledge and Hugh Hopper on bass. The fact that there is no horn playing on this song suggests that it was created before Elton Dean joined the group and before they experimented as a septet with a full horn section which marked their final absorption of jazz playing. There is a striking organ and violin coda while Wyatt sings some lines from songs by former Soft Machine member Kevin Ayers. This is an extraordinary piece of extended songwriting moving across different musical and lyrical themes but which all feel organic and natural rather than contrived. Perhaps it is significant that it is the drummer who creates it, someone who does not feel the need to demonstrate compositional cleverness but focuses on mood and feel. There are some beautiful themes given brief exposure in this piece but which are not repeated.

The final side begins with more tape manipulation before an extended group workout which features perhaps the happiest sounding playing on the record.

This is an inventively satisfying lp. The fact that some of it is a bit creaky and some of the edits jar adds to the charm. It sounds like musicians enjoying what they are playing.

Bob Dylan "Self Portrait"

Dylan returns to the world of the double album after inventing the form with "Blonde on Blonde". And it is a disaster. One of the most famous record reviews in Rolling Stone magazine asked "What is this shit?" A shocking accusation given that Dylan at that time held a reputation amongst the Rolling Stone generation of a cross between Buddha, Gandhi, Socrates and Jesus. And that is not an overstatement. He was the single most important cultural figure under 30 coming out of the 1960s. His legend had been enhanced by his silence from late 1966 to 1968 when he had released no new music (a lifetime in terms of the accelerated development of the 60s). Vietnam, assassinations, drugs, South Africa, Kent State, man on the moon. An audience was keen to hear what the voice of their generation had to say about these and other pressing issues.

Unfortunately, the Gandhi/Jesus figure felt himself to be trapped by the demands and expectations that were being placed on him. He had gotten married, bought a house, started a family, stopped taking so many drugs. He was no longer speeding through life. He had time to reflect and consider himself and his place in the world. He also had time to think in more depth about the material that had inspired him to take up performing in the first place. It is possible that he also measured his own writing against his inspirations and found himself wanting. For whatever reason, when Dylan was ready to begin recording again he did not have a lot of top drawer material available.

The title of this lp seems to relate to its cover art rather than its musical content. Although it might be suggestive of a musical autobiography, the lp is more of a scrapbook, a collage of different elements that suggest something about their author's thoughts and current interests as well as his influences. Dylan records material like "Alberta", "Little Sadie", "Days of '49" that may or may not be traditional. He adds to this his own instrumental or mostly instrumental recordings such as "All the Tired Horses" and "Wigwam". There are then a number of poor (both in terms of performance and recording quality) songs from his appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969. Finally, he records items like "Blue Moon" and "Let It Be Me", songs more associated with middle of the road singers. These sort of performers were rife in the 60s and there was plenty of material created for them to perform. To Dylan's fans, these performers were the enemy - the purveyors and enforcers of a mass blandness that real artists like Dylan were intended to sweep away.

"Self Portrait" revealed Dylan to be as much of a fan of this sort of schlock material as any Minnesota housewife. He sings these songs in a crooner impersonation which could be ironic but is in fact sincere (I think Dylan sees irony as a waste of effort). And then his producer adds in saccharine strings, backing vocalists and other orchestral touches to the recordings. It is all very Dylan does Vegas.

Subsequent speculation was that Dylan brought out "Self Portrait" as a way of deflecting some of the unwanted attention away from him, as a way of losing the more fanatical part of his audience. Possibly as a smokescreen to hide the fact that he had no new material of any distinction and was in fact suffering from writer's block. At the time, that point of view might have had some attraction such is the confusion engendered by the latest recording from the man who had shortly before issued genuinely challenging and innovative works such as "Highway 61 Revisited", the man who had been the epitome of cool in 1966, who had taken on the establishment and called them out on their hypocrisy and lying and who had also taken on his own audience by going electric. Seen through the prism of Dylan's whole career, a less apocalyptic view can be taken of "Self Portrait". There is nothing in Dylan's career to suggest that he has ever wanted to put people off listening to him, on the contrary this most generous of performers seems only too keen to communicate and grateful for the opportunity to do so. His career does have its share of missteps and mistakes (and this lp is another of them) and he has followed his own muse as he sees fit but he hopes to take his audience with him (and seems genuinely surprised when they fail to appreciate his new ventures).

Miles Davis "Bitches Brew"

A difficult lp to write about, this one. I know that it is influential and ground breaking and an exploration of new musical territory and all that and this is the sort of thing that I usually like. I am not enough of a musician to understand why the shape and form of this music is held to be so innovative nor why Miles Davis' occasional farts and toots on his trumpet make people get so excited. Although I would like to give praise and recognition to this record, I can only express how it strikes me on listening to it.

On the plus side, there is great subtlety and control expressed in the playing and the album is extremely well recorded. Considering how many musicians are all playing at the same time on some of the tracks (two or three drummers, two bassists, guitar, two keyboards, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet) and that much of the music is being created spontaneously, it is impressive that things do not sink into chaos. There is a strong tonal and rhythmic centre to all of the tracks and the musicians all appear to be playing with sufficient space not to get in each other's way. There is considerable organisational skill involved in bringing together musicians who have not played together much before and have them create a detailed, delicate backdrop for the lead instruments to play over.

However, I do not find the end result to be interesting, while acknowledging that it is skilful and clever. If this is an early example of jazz musicians being influenced by the rock style then they have failed to learn the one thing that makes rock music compelling, namely excitement. There is no dynamism to this music, no progression, no heading towards a climax, nothing that compels listening. It just exists. The consistent tonal and rhythmic centre mean that it is not that much of a challenge to listen to. To be honest, the biggest enemy is boredom. Nothing happens that makes this music hold my attention.

Particularly when John McLaughlin's guitar is audible, I am reminded of some of King Crimson's musical interludes (like those in "Pictures of a City" and "Moonchild"). However, being a rock group, Crimson remember to surround their outre musical exploration with actual songs. "Bitches Brew" sounds like Miles Davis got a group of musicians together and said I want to record an album that sounds like the middle section of "Pictures of a City".

Last thing, I was never that over keen on the title of the lp either.

Love "Out Here"

Arthur Lee goes country. Arthur Lee goes folk. Arthur Lee goes heavy rock. Nice playing over genteel songs, if this was put together by a group of college age kids any time over the last 25 years or so it would probably sound pretty good. Even now, it is a tolerable listen.

However, it was written by the man most responsible for one of the greatest lps of all time. After recording the "Forever Changes" masterpiece, Arthur Lee broke up his group and a couple of years later put together a new line up that recorded three lps worth of material released as this double album plus a single lp ("Four Sail"). Gone are the baroque writing and arrangements of the earlier lp. Lee attempts nothing as ambitious. Perhaps having released an lp that is nearly as good as "Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" Lee felt he should go back to producing more basic material or perhaps he did not want to repeat himself. The overall impact is that this record pales in comparison with its extraordinary predecessor.

The weirdest moment on the record is when the pretty little tune of "Doggone" gives way to a 10 minute drum solo. Although it is a good and enjoyable solo, it does not fit in with the rest of the song. Usually groups use their more dynamic material for punctuation by a drum solo rather than a featherlight piece of tenderness, and there is some heavier style material on this record which could have stood in for this. For instance, another song on the album features a 10 minute guitar solo and they could well have stuck the drum solo in this. This highlights part of the problem with the album - it all feels a bit random. Epic 12 minute guitar pieces could form a dramatic finale to a set of coherent songs. But here it just occurs in the middle of side three surrounded by OK but not great supporting material.

Timing is everything, after all. If Arthur Lee had recorded this on the way to making "Forever Changes" it would be a fascinating example of his desire to experiment and create unique and inspiring music. Recording it after his masterpiece means it only serves as an example of how his talent could not sustain itself, and of it being too diverse and too ambitious. Perhaps if he had been given a group of musicians able to keep up with the sounds in his head he could have kept making extraordinary music. Or perhaps if he could have kept his sparring partner Bryan MacLean in the group inspiring him to produce more challenging and innovative material - Lee seems someone for whom writing quirky pop comes too easily. Perhaps he needed to be pushed to achieve greatness.

The songs on the album mine furrows such as blues, country, folk and more usual rock and pop. A couple are exceptional - "Listen to my Song" and "Willow Willow". The latter in particular sounds like something an 80s indie band would record - extraordinary for someone writing in the late sixties and a later taste of how far ahead of his time Lee was. Ultimately, "Out Here" does nothing to advance the double album form. It could have been released as a single lp with no appreciable difference in terms of quality and impact. Occasionally, Lee's writing becomes self-referential like the best of his material on "Forever Changes". In "Doggone", he sings "Once I had a singing group, singing group been gone. Now I've got another group, didn't take too long" in reference to his abandonment of the previous incarnation of Love and his establishing of a new group of that name. In "Gather 'Round" he sings "If you don't like my story then don't buy my songs" which shows a lot of front given that this song lifts its melody from Dylan's "The Times They are a-Changin'". Poor Arthur, sadly people did not like his story.


Chicago "Chicago"

Sooner or later a group would come along to spoil the double album more-of-a-good-thing-is-an-even-better-thing theory. All of Chicago's lps are double albums apart from those that are quadruple albums but thankfully this is the only one that I have heard. Dear God, this is dreary stuff. Dad rock at its worst. Republican rock, like straight edge creases in jeans, tucked in T shirts, blue jeans and black shoes. Choose your own mix of naffness.

All excitement has been sucked out of this music. All innovation. All fun. It exists but I have no idea how it is supposed to make me feel. In fact, I doubt it intends to make me feel at all. It's like the musicians are doing an impression of being a group without understanding what makes a group a group.

Its not that the music is played badly. It is played well, proficiently. But it is badly written. Or overwritten. Or underwritten. Or something. Bloody awful is what it is. The melodies are wholly unmemorable, the lyrics are terrible, the performances lifeless. You want it all to stop but it continues for four sides.

I have listened to this about 5 or 6 times and this may be the only record in this whole project that I will never willingly listen to again. The horns parp and fart and the singer groans like he is on the bog. Time signatures vary widely. The guitar makes rock guitar sounds. It is all supposed to sound very sincere but the group convince in the way that hippies in an episode of a Hollywood TV series convince, i.e. not at all. It is all so utterly, utterly pointless. And then we come to the sleevenotes.

"This endeavour should be experienced sequentially" it says on the sleeve. Well, I will be the judge of that. I will listen to it in whatever order I choose. In fact, there is no discernable sense to the order as presented on the original lp that I can find. No reason, either thematicaly or melodically, why one song should be followed by another. Rather, it seems a measure of the musicians' pretentiousness - they see themselves as semi-classical composers who can determine how their creations should be experienced. Not even groups whose albums tell a narrative story felt the need to dictate to their listeners the order in which the songs should be listened to.

Their classical pretentions are also by the fact that they name one of their songs "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon". Yuck! They dedicate it to a girl in the title as if to make us think that they, like, know a girl (but you don't know her, she goes to a different school). And some of their songs have numbered separate parts and even movements to them. Could they get any more desperate to impress?

Worst of all, following the lyrics to "It Better End Soon" printed on the album cover, there is a note which says "With this album, we dedicate ourselves, our futures and our energies to the people of the revolution...And the revolution in all of its forms." This really makes you just want to scream "Wankers!" at them. There is the arrogance of asserting that they will dedicate themselves to the people of the revolution (whoever they are) rather than just keep making albums, which is what they did do. The revolution referred to is of course the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Chicago are claiming their place in the revolution and claiming to support it, whatever it is. Yet they also seem to cop out of it. They are non-specific in identifying what it is they are revolutioning about. One could be generous and say they are trying to extend the definition of the revolution to encompass many different things. But it does feel a bit like saying that the revolution includes whatever I say it does.

Then there are the lyrics. The group have printed the lyrics to "It Better End Soon" on the album sleeve so they seem to be proud of them. Here are the lyrics:

Can't stand it no more
The people dying
Crying for help for so many years
But nobody hears
Better end soon my friend
It better end soon my friend
Can't take it no more
The people hating
Hurting their brothers
They don't understand
They can't understand
Better end soon my friend
It better end soon
Hey, everybody
Won't you just look around
Can't anybody see?
Just what's going down
Can't you take the time?
Just to feel
Just to feel what is real
If you do
Then you'll see that we got a raw deal
They're killing everybody
I wish it weren't true
They say we got to make war
Or the economy will fall
But if we don't stop
We won't be around no more
They're ruining this world
For you and me
The big heads of state
Won't let us be free
They made the rules once
But it didn't work out
Now we must try again
Before they kill us off
No more dying!
No more killing
No more dying
No more fighting
We don't want to die
No, we don't want to die
Please let's change it all
Please let's make it all
Good for the present
And better for the future
Let's just love one another
Let's show peace for each other
We can make it happen

Let's just make it happen
We can change this world
Please let's change this world
Please let's make it happen for our children
For our women
Change the world
Please make it happen
Come on
Come on
Come on
It's up to me
It's up to you
So let's do it now

Do it now
Can't stand it no more
The people cheating
Burning each other
They know it ain't right
How can it be right
Better end soon my friend
It better end soon my friend

This reads like a parody of an anti-war, anti-capitalism song. Like one of Rik Mayall's protest poems in "The Young Ones". Chicago have been quite a popular group over the years and this is held to be one of their best lps so perhaps the fault is in me. I do think that their song "If You Leave Me Now" is one of the loveliest pieces of music but this lp is really desperate stuff.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Pink Floyd "Ummagumma"

Like Cream's "Wheels of Fire", "Ummagumma" is a one live lp, one studio lp double album.

The live lp has four songs from Pink Floyd's repertoire at the time. All are well recorded and feature powerful performances that are surprisingly muscular and represent the peak recordings of Pink Floyd's career as space rock voyagers. The group show a good sense of dynamics; building and dismantling and rebuilding pieces in performance. All of the songs played are considerably expanded from their original studio recordings and feature clever abstract sections that do not sink into the sort of free jamming that something like The Grateful Dead's abstract "Feedback" section did.

The studio lp is divided into four quarters with each quarter given to contributions from an individual group member. Richard Wright's front parlor piano style marks out his contribution before adopting a more strident, discordant tone. Crashes and bangs follow along with runs up and down the keyboard and attacks on the strings of the piano. Accompanied by percussion and vocal effects, Wright then assails what sounds like a prepared piano. Organ, bird song and running water come next with some slight slide guitar. Finally, a horrible organ chord with cymbals and timpani followed by more organ work, the slide guitar again and some sheets of sound before the return of the intimating theme of the piece. Overall, it feels slightly rushed. Almost a "will this do" approach and not much of a development from the band's own "A Saucerful of Secrets" number.

Roger Waters offers two separate recordings. The first, "Grantchester Meadows" is a bucolic acoustic number slightly reminiscent of "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen and featuring bird songs and other sound effects including that of a fly being swatted. Waters' other offering, "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict", comprises multi-layered vocal effects arranged to convey the scene portrayed in the title of the piece. It certainly illustrates Roger Waters' willingness to make a fool of himself but is also, in my view, the most listenable of all the tracks on the studio lp.

David Gilmour's "The Narrow Way" focuses, as one might expect, on his guitar playing. First, he finger picks and strums a rolling pattern that has only a very slight melody flavoured with some random slide parts. Some heavy metal riffing follows accompanied by George of the Jungle patterns on the tom toms and more slide guitar effects. Along with Richard Wright's high pitched organ settings, Gilmour's liberal use of the slide guitar is behind almost all of Pink Floyd's spacey sounding material from this period. Finally, Gilmour offers us a song based on descending chords marked out first by the piano and then an ascending chorus all accompanied again by a slide guitar before drums and bass join in. Some more guitars appear and the song plays to fade out but not before the group begins to run out of steam.

Nick Mason's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" features two iterations of a flute theme beginning and ending a percussion sequence augmented by some spacey sounds and tape effects. It is reminiscent of a demonstration disc for showing the quality of your stereo system (here is a sound in the left speaker, and here is another sound in the right speaker). He does manage to play a melody on what sounds like blowing across the tops of bottles filled with different levels of liquid, so that is something. A brief drum solo serves only to demonstrate that Mason is no Ginger Baker. In attempting to make music out of random sounds, the piece perhaps foreshadows the group's household objects experiment of a few years later.

Overall, "Ummagumma" is not a great album but is bold stuff for a group still finding their mature voice.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band "Trout Mask Replica"

Pop's great leap forward. Taking account of the innovations in songwriting made by The Beatles, particularly "Strawberry Fields Forever", and Frank Zappa's exploration of formal composition and juxtaposition, Captain Beefheart and his fellow musicians were the first to tackle the form of pop music, to take apart the building blocks of the music and put them together in a way different from anyone before.

This achievement was not recognised at the time. Critics and fans were confused by scarcity of traditional musical moves and assumed that the music was a melding of blues forms with free jazz. Subsequent study, and the release of earlier recordings, demonstrate that there is very little that is free about this music. Beefheart himself always referred to these pieces as compositions and they are composed, albeit not in a traditional style. Away from the myth (that the songs were composed in an 8 hour shift by Beefheart on a piano after he had stared at it for a while) and the trappings of Beefheart's own language (exploding note theory) is the even weirder story of how half a dozen, starving beat musicians locked themselves away in a house and over the course of 9 months invented the most startling pop music anyone had heard to that point.

There are a number of different styles reflected across the album. Some pieces are poetic narration, "China Pig" is a straight forward blues, some pieces are sung in the style of field chants, "Moonlight on Vermont" is an early statement of rock riffology. Far from unmelodic, the songs are chocked with melody. Snippets of music taken from Beefheart's childhood, TV adverts, other pop songs, and recognisable riffage all break out amidst the dissonance. Musical motifs and phrases reoccur, sometimes played in unison, sometimes separately. The music deploys serious musical concepts like counterpoint and polyrhythm in a playful fashion and this, together with some of the jokier moments on the recording made people think that the group were not serious. But this is deeply serious music - people do not devote 9 months of their life, every waking day, and forego all possible sources of earnings, for a series of jokes.

Each of the major compositions (major in terms of significance rather than length or portentousness) can be broken down into small chunks of repeated elements. These elements consist of a short musical phrase played by each of the two lead guitars and the bass. Each phrase is repeated, sometimes four times, sometimes more, and some phrases are repeated again later in the composition. The difficulty that many listeners have with this music is that each phrase played by each instrumentalist is usually separate from that played by the others, both in terms of tempo and key. The rules of musical harmony and rhythm are shattered. Each note has its own worth and contains within itself the possibility to be followed by any other note without concern for key or pitch (Beefheart's exploding note theory). What stops the music from collapsing into chaos is that each phrase is the same length for each instrumentalist. Thus they are able to start and stop at the same time and it is this which made the music reproducable by performers who were not conventional trained musicians able to sight read sheet music.

It is the job of the drummer to keep all this together, to play out the length of each phrase and to accompany and emphasise some elements of the musical parts and to contrast with others. The drummer sometimes plays a conventional rhythm and sometimes plays polyrhythms. It is the greatest drumming performance that I am aware of in pop music. Even more extraordinary is the fact that it was the drummer (whose name is John French) who transcribed the musical parts for the other musicians to play as well as transcribing his own drum parts to the extent that he would later record an lp consisting of just the drum parts for some of these songs (just the drums, no other instruments, and an amazing listen it is too).

Fittingly considering the musical accompaniment, the lyrics for the compositions on "Trout Mask Replica" are unlike anything else up to that point. The subject matter of some of the songs is sometimes the usual material of pop music - feeling happy, girls, but it is handled elliptically. Other subjects addressed include the holocaust, man's relationship with nature, a comparison between how men and ants fight amongst themselves over small things while bees are able to share, how societies establish themselves and develop. 

The language used and sentence constructs are closer to poetry than conventional pop lyrics. Phrases are repeated but there are no choruses, again fitting with the dislocated nature of the music. Unusual words like "hominy" (coarsely ground corn), "gingham", "faucet", "atomiser", "bobbin", "floozy", "speidel" (a brand of watch), "Merc Montclair" (a type of car) signify an older America. And these words are not accidental, several of them occurring more than once in different songs. Birds, ants, bees, worms, a fly, butterflies, fish, a jack rabbit, a horse, bears, wild geese, swans, mice, gophers, alligators, and a white elephant are all mentioned, sometimes recurring in different songs. This may be the most animalistic lp of all time. Characters such as hobbos, bums, old women, mothers, fathers, daughters, Lousey, Big Joan, Ella Guru, Mrs Wooten and Little Nitty, Ole Gray, and Bimbo Limbo Spam all appear. The ocean, the sea, the sky, the sun, and the moon are referenced repeatedly.

Did Frank Zappa ruin "Trout Mask Replica"? Frank Zappa produced the lp and left us with a fairly muddy sound. The drums in particular lack oomph. The vocals are pushed to the front of the sound, along with the horn parts, leaving the band relegated to the background for many pieces. Zappa interposes himself on some parts of the album with interjections and one song directed to himself ("it's the Blimp, Frank") which features a recording of his own group rather than The Magic Band. His other significant double album production of this time by an artist other than himself was his overseeing of "An Evening with Wild Man Fischer", a recording of a local eccentric/mentally damaged person. Along with his production of The GTOs (an album made by groupie hangers on), was Zappa cultivating a stable of freakish outsiders and harnessing them for cheap laughs and did he see Beefheart and his music as another example of this? It is a point worth considering.

However, it should be recognised that possibly only Zappa had the willingness and the means to produce a record by Beefheart at this point in Beefheart's career. Beefheart had fallen out with his record company over their post-production ruination (as he saw it) of his previous lp, the blues and psychedelia driven "Strictly Personal". Beefheart had also wanted to put out a double lp, "It Comes To You in a Plain Brown Wrapper", comprising these recordings and the longer pieces subsequently released as "Mirror Man". Beefheart always saw himself, rightly, as an Important Artist, and probably felt he should be allowed to make a major statement like The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix had done with their double albums. Zappa not only agreed to record and release a new Beefheart lp but also to make it a double album, thus satisfying Beefheart's ego. As with the Wild Man Fischer and GTOs lps, there can only have been a limited financial incentive for Zappa to do this. None of these were conventionally commercial propositions. Zappa also produced all these lps at a time of great creative endeavour for himself and his own output. It seems unikely that he would have diverted his efforts into these channels unless he thought there was something more meaningful that could be uncovered.

However, it is also the case that producing these three lps did not involve Zappa in too much work. Both Wild Man Fischer and Beefheart often perform unaccompanied necessitating little effort from any producer and their lps include non-studio recordings. "Trout Mask Replica" includes what are clear one-take errors (such as Beefheart being unable to get all of the words into "She's Too Much For My Mirror") which were not subsequently corrected. Beefheart's next lp, "Lick My Decals Off, Baby", has a much clearer production than "Trout Mask Replica" with a greater separation and differentiation of the various instruments. However, not all of this is Zappa's fault. He appears to have been taken aback by the Magic Band's ability to play their pieces straight through in one take. They were so well drilled and used to playing as a collective that they may not have been able to play their individual parts separately to facilitate separation of the instruments. John French played at least one of the songs on the album with cardboard covering his drums and cymbals, which cannot have helped with getting a good drum sound (nor with playing the instrument). Beefheart himself had not bothered rehearsing with the band so no-one (including him) knew where the vocal parts would fit with the music. It is alleged that he recorded his vocal and saxophone parts without headphones so he could not even hear much of the music. And doubtless Beefheart himself insisted that his performance should be to the fore.

The mixture of sources used for the lp does give "Trout Mask Replica" variation across the four sides but not always satisfactorily. "Moonlight on Vermont" and "Veteran's Day Poppy" are sensational recordings but jar with their surroundings. Some of the album was recorded at The Magic Band's house rather than in a studio ("a bush recording" as Beefheart has it) and being interupted by their new neighbours. "China Pig", a spontaneous recording, sounds like it was recorded on a cassette player with a former member of the group and his straight blues playing does not fit with the more advanced material elsewhere on the record. The vocals for "The Blimp" are dialled in, literally being recorded over the phone, and then played back over a recording of Zappa's Mothers of Invention. And then there are the occasional bants between Beefheart and the musicians. All of these are mere trappings. Entertaining in their own right, they can detract from the main meat of The Magic Band recordings at Whitney Studios in March 1969. The result is that sometimes "Trout Mask Replica" is dismissed as freaky outsider music that is cool because it is so far out. Rather than the album be recognised as a major art statement and art achievement of the later 20th century. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the future but few would be surprised, I think, to discover musicians in 22nd century conservatoires still trying to unpick exactly what is occurring in these recordings and to attempt to reproduce them. Good luck with that, everybody.