For this review, I'm doing something different. I'm going to take bits and pieces of various reviews from others and myself, and put them together as one.
This 1970 release finds Zappa and band at the apex of their improvisational powers. CHUNGA'S REVENGE largely eschews both high concept and satire in order to focus on the considerable jamming expertise of Zappa and his cohorts. In its original LP form, the album was divided into two discrete halves. The first side consists of extended, largely instrumental pieces where Zappa and his musicians stretch out and show off their improv chops over relatively simple, often blues-based structures. The keyboard-based instrumental interlude "Twenty Small Cigars"
provides an interesting semi-classical change of pace.
Side two contains shorter, vocal-oriented numbers, with harmonies that draw on the doo-wop influence of Zappa's youth (a recurrent element in his work). Slightly schizophrenic though it may be, CHUNGA'S REVENGE
is something of a showcase for the members of Zappa's group, displaying their vocal and instrumental interaction to fine effect.
It may not be Zappa's magnum opus, but CR is still a pretty darn good album, with two instrumental tracks which are among his best, and two others which come pretty close.
Given that they're seldom mentioned in "all-time best Zappa" lists, "Transylvania Boogie"
and "Twenty Small Cigars"
should be considered among the most underrated tracks of his career. The former with its subtle shift from eclectic jazz-rock guitar to a more traditional (though still good) blues-rock bit. The interplay between the various instruments at the beginning of this song is amazing, as is Zappa's lead guitar performance. An excellent opening track. "Twenty Small Cigars"
merits its rating by virtue of being one of the most precise, concise, understated and touching moments in Zappa's career. However much some might wish to deny it, Zappa could write beautiful music when he wanted to -- and this was obviously one such occasion.
Other notable mentions are Road Ladies
and Tell Me You Love Me
(a good rocker of sorts). I highly recommend this album.