Jazz From Hell

Released: November 1986


  1. Night School
  2. The Beltway Bandits
  3. While You Were Art II
  4. Jazz From Hell
  5. G-Spot Tornado
  6. Damp Ankles
  7. St. Etienne
  8. Massaggio Galore

All compositions executed by Frank Zappa on the Synclavier DMS with the exception of “St. Etienne”.
“St. Etienne”: Frank Zappa (lead guitar), Steve Vai (rhythm guitar), Ray White (rhythm guitar), Tommy Mars (keyboards), bobby Martin (keyboards), Ed Mann (percussion), Scott Thunes (bass), Chad Wackerman (drums)

13 thoughts on “Jazz From Hell”

  1. I drool at the prospect of all the unreleased synclavier pieces in the Zappa vault whenever I hear this master piece. Highly recommended.

  2. This was my first real Zappa studio album after I went for several months just listening to the Cheap Thrills compilations over and over for my FZ fix. It was also just $9.99, so how could I go wrong ? Lots of instant classics on here. With the exception of St. Etienne, it’s a bit hard to swallow for some non-electronic purists, otherwise you should love it.

    WARNING: Listen to this through headphones ! Without absolute focus, you will not get the full effect of the music !

  3. Alot of Freaks didn’t like this album when it came out. “Too sterile, and dry sounding, etc.” but it won a Grammy Award. I thought it was a great album at the time with FZ using his synclaiver syntheziser system to realize some of his more complex compositions, with a nice guitar solo thrown in for fun. I still think it’s a great album.

  4. Overall a fine album, that it is easy to listen to over and over again. Brilliant.

    St Etienne is one of the finest Zappa solos and one I include on my own compilations should the urge overtake me. Considering the stuff that has won a Grammy in the past, can’t say that the award impresses me much.

  5. After hearing about how much people disliked this album (meaning the ones used to albums like ZAPPA IN NEW YORK), and how it received a Grammy and a sticker, I bought it at Tower Records for $10. I fell in love with it instantly. Tracks like ‘The Beltway Bandits’ and the classic ‘G-Spot Tornado’ make this album more than an electronic album–they make it an example of compositions that humans are not ready to fully understand on an instrument. Or so I thought (see GREGGERY PECCARY AND OTHER PERSUASIONS). Worth it for ‘St. Etienne’ and ‘G-Spot Tornado’ alone.

  6. I think it is a great album, the highlight for me being St. Etienne. Which in my opinion was very fitting on the album because for me, the album is not a synclavier album but just a Zappa 80’s album. Dont ask me why, but for me Zappa in the 80’s is a Zappa with a ‘sound’ not a band. I realize the bands and realize the players, but like many have pointed out, this album, like a lot of his 80’s work is “cold and sterile” in that its perfection lacks the human element. Which is very good, I love the notes. I would recommend that people approach this album like that rather than as electronic music.
    Besides this, I think the weak moments in the album is when there are a lot of seeingly random notes hit very fast. Most apparent in “While You Were Art2” it just seems to cheapen the contextural score, it sounds like a kid playing with a synthesizer, just banging on it. There is a great complexity throughout the whole work, it is just the technology that made it sound like this.
    The album could be longer too (only 35 minutes).

  7. Reading the above criticism of ‘While You Were Art 2’ made me reply.

    ‘While You Were Art 2’ is a transcription of the guitar solo ‘While You Were Out’ on the ‘Shut Up & Play Your Guitar’ series (sorry, can’t remember which of the 3 it’s on. It was originally transcribed for a performance by a new music ensemble in L.A., I believe they were called EAR, or maybe that was the name of the festival it was debuted at. The group couldn’t learn it because it was too hard, so Frank suggested they air guitar it, as it were. They faked it to a tape and no one knew. It was discovered later and the musicians apologized, but Frank laughed it off.

  8. Dear stupid assholes who don’t think that they like Jazz From Hell,

    Jazz From Hell is better than you. And yes, it is also better than me too. So don’t be a fucking schmuck, just dig Jazz From Hell, ok, you pieces of shit?

    a true jazzman

  9. This one is hard to grasp initially. It took literally several years of owning it before i got “hooked”, and from that moment on it was gorgeous to listen to each time. Yes, there are tons of “little quick notes” on it. So, in order to digest each one of them, a little time is needed. Simple suggestion: Buy it, listen to it, listen to it, listen to it, etc… Should you have any problem underway, jump to “St. Etienne” to get some instant reward. Then, go back to listening from the start. Believe me, one day you’ll get hooked and won’t regret it…

  10. Zappa’s response 2 getting a Grammy 4 this album was 2 speculate out loud as 2 whether ANY of the nice people that awarded it had even LISTENED 2 said album, & sincerely doubted so … i concur: this is NOT the stuff of which Popular Music Awards are made. MAYBE in 1996 but not 1986 … no, this is a Big Serious Bugger & then some – & despite missing the likes of the Underwoods & George Duke, it yet has 4 me an instant appeal: here be Hot Poop!

    Interestinger & Interestinger … wonder if it helps 2 know that “Night School” was supposed 2 be the Theme Song 4 a TeeVee Program of the same name, hosted by none other than FZ? Actually a LOT of this album sounds 2 me as if it’s meant 2 serve as thematic matter 4 some BIZARRE video, much like the “G-Spot Tornado” eyeball-attack-poodle on VIDEO FROM HELL.

    Speaking of which, who the hell ELSE could you see managing 2 get an INSTRUMENTAL song banned from the radio, in the mid-80’s?!


    “While You Were Art II” sounds eminently orderly & NON-random 2 me, but i’m a bloody mutant so what do i know anyway? Oh, & folks can wax poetic all they want about the soulful solo on “St. Etienne” … but that isn’t the real time-bomb here – it’s the aforementioned Erotic Typhoon mini-epic: if there’re still humans around another millennium hence, rest assured they’ll be sweating & cussing themselves frantic over SOME kind of instruments, doing that “DAdadada-dadadada,daDAda,daDAda,dada,DAda”
    riff… & inwardly giggling at the title.

  11. I am surprised that “Jazz From Hell” represents the only almost total-synclavier release Frank put out during his lifetime (until the masterwork “Civilzation: Phaze III”), considering how much press went out from Frank about his “Damascus Moment” conversion to the world of Synclavier composition and music production. My own theory is that deep inside the man, Frank was always somewhat conflicted about the “machine vs. musician” debate, wishing that he could yet come across the level of musician and personality who could easily play what the machine could spit out effortlessly. It is touching and moving that with “The Yellow Shark” he came most impressively close to unifiying both worlds.

    The synclavier pieces are so strong and well written, a few are now considered Zappa “standards”: “G-Spot Tornado”, “Night School”, etc….most people wrote off Frank’s Synclavier stuff because it was programmed into the MACHINE, and because all his fans feared that Frank would run away to the cave and never come out and play a burnin’ guitar solo ever again. Ho-hum.

    Speaking of guitar, I am sorry that most of the above reviewers are zeroing in on praising “St. Etienne”, because although it IS great, it definitely (in my opinion) represents a slight insecurity (rare) on Frank’s part, as though he worried NO ONE would buy this release unless he condescended to put a little “teaser” guitar number on there. Just my take on it, but hey…

    I agree with those who suggest that the Synclavier stuff is best listened to on headphones. Absolutely. The complexity, the innovation, the polyrhythms will all blow your head completely off. This is dense, wonderful, exploratory work, and you’re not a real Zappa fan if you are unwilling to at least TRY to listen whenever and however you can. Yeah, the cover is probably the most boring, straight-ahead art design Frank ever put out, but its the MUSIC that matters, and the music is wonderful.

    Oh yeah, my granmother was “disappointed” when she saw I was into a CD with “Hell” in the title…….

  12. “ADVICE FOR NEW ZAPPA FANS”: I just completed rebuying all of FZ’s classical works on CD (I had them all on vinyl and have been filling in the whole collection digitally). I was struck by something I wanted to share with the community at KUR.com and I bet some of the hardcore fans will appreciate this too.

    When I was in high school getting into FZ I was far more drawn to the “rock music” than to the “classical”. (And there is a whole thread on KUR about “define what ‘rock’ means to you”.) Once in my 30’s my ear matured to hearing FZ’s classical work. I urge all new and old fans alike to either a) try listening only to FZ classical for a day – NO “ROCK”; or b) if you are keen to making playlists, mixtapes (cassette and CD), and the ilk – try working from only these albums to make a mix of your choosing (until they make that illegal). No grading order is implied here:

    FZ Classical 101- London Symphony Vols. I & II, Perfect Stranger (Boulez conducts Zappa, skip the Synclaiver stuff for now), Yellow Shark, and Orchestral Favorites.

    Classical 201 – try pulling “those songs” (you know which ones) from: Uncle Meat, Lumpy Gravy, Absolutely Free, 200 Motels, Them or Us, & You Are What You Is (movements from ‘Sinister Footwear’ from the last two albums).

    301 – drop in the Synclaiver work from Jazz From Hell, Meets the Mothers of Prevention, Perfect Stranger, and Civilization Phase III, (and if you happen to…ahem…have something called Resolver + Brutality, I won’t tell anyone – just slip it on the mix). I didn’t include Francesco Zappa (which is indeed really fine music to listen to while having a nice sit-down dinner) as they are not his compositions.

    Remember: if you think it “rocks too much” (the ‘Footwears’ perhaps, and some of the Uncle Meat and 200 Motels tracks) then drop it from the mix. I guarantee by removing the rock and roll persona and sounds from a focused Zappa listening session you will open you ears wider than you thought they might go (even with Frank) and you will begin to hear some wonderful things.

    I write this as someone that has been listening to FZ for almost 20 years and share this little epiphany out of my love for the music and for this community. I now expect the requisite “what about this song/album?” replies. May such comments serve us all in making our own versions of the “Strictly Genteel” compilation release attuned to our own ear.

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