Return to Forever IV / Zappa Plays Zappa: Denver, August 27, 2011
Ponty's violin is a new instrument for RTF and is probably the addition that causes the greatest departure from the sound of RTF II. Ponty's ideas cross pollinated with Corea's and Clarke's and resulted in a sonic hybrid vigor. Gambale on guitar, a veteran of Chick Corea Elektric Band, will obviously be compared to Di Meola forever. That's obviously a hard act to follow, but he stood up well, fluently playing the pre-arranged guitar parts and adding his own solo touches when his turn in the spotlight came. White continued to drive the band as he has for many years now with both force and finesse. Corea is still the leader, for the most part, stage directing many of the tunes as they unfolded and setting the improv bar at a typically lofty level.
Dweezil Zappa brought his eight piece band on tourit takes that many players to adequately play the intricate music of his father. With around 60 Zappa albums in circulation, Dweezil has plenty of material to choose from. An hour long set can barely scratch the surface. For Saturday night's program, Frank's son chose several of the father's more popular numbers such as "Dancin' Fool," "50-50," "Po-Jama People" and "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow/Nanook Rubs It/St. Alfonso's Pancake Breakfast." But it wasn't strictly a commercial set, and included other, more obscure selections such as "Big Swifty" and "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?"
Frank's whimsical nature was present as the band used instruments like a kazoo, a squeeze toy, a Jew's harp and a marimba for a bit of a cartoonish sound. Ben Thomas on vocals (also some trumpet and percussion) channeled the late Frank's vocal style and dry wit pulling off what amounted to comedy routines in the midst of a polyrhythmic fusion frenzy. Dweezil, himself, generally followed some of his dad's advice to "shut up and play yer guitar." Frank's guitar playing was always easily recognizable, with a bit of a hollow, twisted tone and an angular, sometimes spastic attack. Dweezil tended toward a little cleaner sound but matched the velocity of any lick of RTF's. It was during "St. Alfonso's Pancake Breakfast" that the similarities of these two bands became most apparent. The run in that tune that comes right after the title matches, nearly note for note, the distinctive, high speed riff that recurs in RTF's "Romantic Warrior." RTF and Zappa: brothers in licks.