FRANK ZAPPA, Zappa ‘88: The Last U.S. Show (Zappa Records, 2021). Just when you think you’ve heard all the acrobatics from an artist and his band, they up and prove you wrong. Prior to its implosion, Frank Zappa’s 1988 band — which featured the likes of Ike Willis (guitar and vocals), Chad Wackerman (drums), Scott Thunes (bass), and Mike Keneally (guitar and keyboards) — brought forth some of the most remarkable notes in the Zappa universe. Sadly, not everyone got a chance to see and hear it. The band played its last American show at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on March 25 of that year. This release documents that performance. The band is beyond air-tight and firing on all cylinders. Classic tunes are taken to the next level with fresh arrangements and new approaches. Those looking for Zappa the Guitar Hero will be thrilled beyond belief, particularly on “City of Tiny Lights.” Three albums have been released featuring this particular ensemble already. This fourth release is every bit as essential.
UMPHREY’S MCGEE, You Walked Up Shaking in Your Boots But You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull (2021). The album title is a mouthful, but for a band like Umphrey’s McGee, it makes perfect sense. Known as one of the pre-eminent “jam” bands, UM has released a completely instrumental album that gives them a chance to do what they do best: settle into a groove, establish its identity, then walk around in it for awhile. The sounds range from semi-metal to virtual 80’s synthesizer jams, leaving plenty of room for the soloist take his time and make the composition his own, if only during those moments. Guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brenan Bayliss definitely take advantage of the open space, while keyboardist Joel Cummins lies down lush soundscapes to help capture the mood of each jam. This is the music Umphre’s likes to play in between their established numbers, heard in a slightly different context. It turns out these jams stand on their own just fine.
CINDY BLACKMAN-SANTANA, Give the Drummer Some (Copperline Music Group, 2020). Anyone asking who this woman is will most definitely have the answer by the end of this record. Drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana let’s it hall hang out on Give the Drummer Some, a phrase coined by James Brown and taken to heart by the percussionist. Blackman-Santana puts her eclectic chops on display in contexts as diverse as jazz, soul, pop, rock, and fusion, constantly staying “up on the one” like nobody’s business. Cameos by the likes of John McLaughlin, Narada Michael Walden, Vernon Reid, and her husband Carlos Santana add spice to a mix that was already sizzling hot. Versatility, thy name be Cindy!
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