Frank Zappa - Halloween on DVD Audio
by Jim Bray
Proving there is life after death, this DTS Entertainment DVD
Audio disc exhumes the late great entertainer and gives his music new life
thanks to today's audio technology.
First, full disclosure up front: I've never been much of a Zappa
fan, though I acknowledge his position in modern music history and his
influence. But a new concert disc that uses state-of-the-art audio technology
to bring twenty-five year old analog recordings to the present is too great an
opportunity for an audio/videophile to turn down, so I tackled this review with
In the end, I'm more of a Zappa fan than before, though this
concert doesn't come close to replacing The Who as my band of choice - and I'm
a bigger fan than ever of the potential of music on DVD.
The previously unreleased concert, culled from Zappa's Halloween
and near Halloween concerts at New York's Palladium, was originally recorded on
24 track analog tape, and DTS enlisted the original engineer, Joe Cicarelli, to
mix this new 5.1 channel version. Zappa's son Dweezil produced, and the whole
effort appears to be a genuine labor of love from beginning to end.
So the concert, which has been cut to about 70 minutes to fit onto
the disc, has been lovingly and seamlessly assembled and really does sound like
a single show. And the performances are top notch; Frank Zappa had a knack for
bringing on board some of the best musicians of the time and this disc is no
The concert flows well from beginning to end and the engineers
have, with the exception of the excellent drum solo "Zeets," made you almost
feel a part of the audience with the music filling the soundstage in front of
you and the ambience and audience surrounding you. That drum solo makes you
feel almost like a fly on the drum kit as the 5.1 mix zips around you from
channel to channel, front to rear, left to right, etc. etc. It isn't realistic,
since the drums would have been on stage and not all around the hall, but it's
Zappa was if nothing else one heck of a guitar player and there
are some wicked solos on this disc, too.
The audio, especially considering its "ancient" and analog
origins, is outstanding. Except for the two channel PCM track which offers
conventional CD quality sound, DTS has used 96K/24 bit technology and it shows
- even if your playback equipment doesn't support 96/24 the audio quality is
first rate, with terrific dynamics, deep bass, and a wonderful live feel.
Theyve also piled on the extras, including a full libretto
and copious liner notes (which are repeated on the disc itself). Theres
also a very entertaining radio interview with Frank, who appears not to suffer
fools lightly (which makes him okay in my book) and two videos: an excellent
live version of Suicide Chum and his performance of
Dancin Fool from Saturday Night Live. I remember this latter
performance; I liked it then and it has aged well. Audio of the videos is
unremarkable; the real meat is on the audio tracks themselves.
Theres also a full discography of Franks many, many
albums and his official biography, which wont take long to
read. You also get the DTS story, a brief history of the company.
The extras are fine, but theyre the icing on the cake.
Its the advanced resolution DVD-A and DTS 5.1 (for DVD video players)
tracks that are the star of the show, and they do, indeed shine.
Okay, while Im still not hooked on Zappas music
(though his lyrics, song and album titles are great!), Im even more
hooked on DVD Audio than I was before. My first experience with the format,
though not with DTS handling of it, came with
Emerson, Lake and
Palmers Brain Salad Surgery, which is easily the best
recorded version of that classic album. I can think of a large number of other
classic album titles Id love to see released in this format, and though
Im completely out of touch with todays new artists (being a middle
aged fart) Id love to see as many albums released with this type of audio
quality as possible.
Unfortunately, since this is a release of previously unavailable
material one cant compare this version with an earlier one. But Im
confident that if Id bought an earlier CD of this concert Id be
throwing it away about now and firing up the DVD player for its
Frank Zappa Halloween, from DTS Entertainment
minutes (plus extras), produced by Dweezil Zappa
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think