Whilst Fred Astaire danced down the steps, his brother Stan just slowly carried an old woman up them.
Jazz From Hell is an instrumental album whose selections were all composed and recorded by American musician Frank Zappa. It was released on November 15, 1986 by Barking Pumpkin Records on vinyl and cassette, and in 1987 by Rykodisc on CD. Jazz From Hell was Zappa’s final studio album released in his lifetime; for the remaining seven years of his life, he would only release live concert albums, although the posthumous Civilization Phaze III was completed shortly before his death.
Zappa won a 1988 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for this album.
This wasn’t the first Zappa album to feature the synclavier, 1984’s Boulez Conducts Zappa featured synclavier compositions and orchestral tracks, but it is almost wholly the first that is synclavier driven. Frank also used a synclavier, sparingly, on his final tour in ’88.
The album has few highlights for me: The opener Night School is an excellent track: upbeat, frenetic and exciting. I can hear this played by humans, and there’s a great ‘guitar’ solo in it. G-Spot Tornado is another cracking frantic number that Frank assumed it would be impossible to play by humans, though it would be performed by Ensemble Modern on the concert recording The Yellow Shark (1993). The non-synclavier, St.Ettiene is a guitar solo excerpted from a live performance Zappa gave of Drowning Witch during a concert in Saint-Étienne, France, on his 1982 tour and a lovely little number it is.
And that’s where the good stuff ends. The rest of the tracks are quite a chore to listen too, especially the slower, sinister-sounding numbers. Nothing really stuck with me and I struggle to recall the any of the songs. I do like some of Frank’s synclavier stuff, but a whole album of it is not what I call a good time. Not an album I would listen to by choice. 1.5/5