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Frank Zappa & The Mothers | The Mothers 1970

This short-lived lineup wasn't short on chops, inspiration or sheer lunacy.

Sometimes a little goes a long way. Case in point: Frank Zappa’s 1970 incarnation of The Mothers. The short-lived lineup (and the first to use the abridged band name) only made it through seven months and one studio album — the underappreciated Chunga’s Revenge. But they aren’t given short shrift in The Mothers 1970, the latest archival box from the Zappa Family Trust and the late legend’s vast, vaunted vault. It’s a four-disc set containing 70 studio and live recordings — nearly all previously unreleased (at least officially). Right off the bat, the 12-track studio disc delivers various versions of the classics Wonderful Wino and Sharleena, but is mostly dominated by instrumental fare, including three cuts featuring lengthy solos from superstar drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Unsurprisingly, the live portion of the proceedings is where the outrageous ensemble — fronted by freewheeling former Turtles vocalists (and Zappa’s Laurel Canyon neighbours) Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie) — and the set really hit their stride. The three-plus hours of concert content comes from a slew of excellent shows in Europe and America that fall. The set list covers the waterfront from Freak Out to 200 Motels, along with plenty of solos and a handful of rarities like Portuguese Fenders. Betwixt and between, you get an array of ribald, raucous onstage shenanigans, along with some routines similar to those found on the following year’s Fillmore East — June 1971. And considering a lot of the shows were recorded on the fly — sometimes with Zappa running the reel-to-reel and changing tape himself onstage — the sound is surprisingly tolerable. Bottom line: These discs make it clear the 1970 version of The Mothers weren’t short on musical talent, improvisational skills, outsized personalities and sheer unbridled lunacy.

THE PRESS RELEASE:The Mothers 1970 collects together more than four hours of previously unreleased performances by the heralded lineup which lasted roughly seven months: Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (piano/keys/trombone), Ian Underwood (organ/keys/guitar), Jeff Simmons (bass/vocals) and Flo & Eddie aka Howard Kaylan (vocals) and Mark Volman (vocals/percussion) of The Turtles who performed under the aliases to skirt contractual limitations of performing under their own names. This iteration of The Mothers, which likely began rehearsals fifty years ago this spring, came to an end in January of 1971 when Simmons quit the band during the making of the 200 Motels movie. Following Zappa’s especially productive year of 1969, which saw him record and release several albums, including Uncle Meat and Hot Rats, produce Captain Beefheart’s outsider classic Trout Mask Replica, as well as the one and only album for The GTO’s, the musician disbanded the original Mothers Of Invention and started experimenting with smaller lineups. Through a variety of circumstances and several chance encounters, Zappa began to assemble his new group of collaborators, with the only original Mother being Ian Underwood. As Joe Travers writes in the enlightening liner notes, which also include a wealth of live and behind-the-scenes photos from this era: “It’s no secret that Frank was excited about this group. The cast of characters and their personalities, musically and personally, made for a very eventful and humorous chapter in Zappa’s career. Frank had a blast with these guys. Their sound was unique, their humor was like no other and yet their time was ultimately short lived.” Fleeting as it may have been, this camaraderie is on full display and will now live on forever as the exciting new collection, The Mothers 1970.”