Bill Carbone and Beau Sasser are a literal musical keystone for a pair of groups that specialize in bringing the music of two very divergent musicians to the stage, thus not only keeping it relevant and accessible, but introducing it to audiences who may not be familiar with it.
While they each have a special legacy, Melvin Sparks and Frank Zappa couldn’t be farther apart when it comes to style — Sparks the epitome of acid/soul jazz guitar playing, as a leader or sideman and Zappa, the genius band leader/composer/guitarist who ran the gamut from rock and jazz to avant-garde extremes.
Keeping those varied styles in mind should provide more appreciation for the challenges that drummer Carbone and keyboardist Sasser tackle when they’re on stage with Sparkplug playing the music of Sparks and The Z3: Funky Takes On Frank.
The June 10 edition of Greasy Tracks featured the music of Sparks and Zappa and the
associated interpretations by Sparkplug and of The Z3 as well as interviews with Carbone and Sasser. The program aired only hours before Sparkplug — with David Davis on sax and guitarist Danny Mayer joining in — took the stage at the Pacific Standard Tavern in New Haven to mark the posthumous release of Melvin Sparks Live at Nectar’s (One Note Records). Click here to listen to the archive of the program, while the playlist is here.
Meanwhile, The Z3 will be playing at Toad’s Place in New Haven on June 29.
Tickets will be given away for each of the shows.
Sparks, who was heavily influenced by Grant Green as were his contemporaries George Benson and Ivan “Boogaloo Joe” Jones, passed away in 2011. Carbone and Sasser backed him for a number of years, including during the Dec. 30, 2010 recording of the concert at Nectar’s in Burlington, Vt., several months before his death. Interestingly, the band was augmented by a horn section that night, a rarity for Sparks in a concert setting. The live material was turned over to New Mastersounds’ guitarist Eddie Roberts who mastered it and ultimately released it on the group-run label.
While it was not uncommon for Zappa to have as many as 15 or sometimes more musicians on stage with him at any given time, just as their name suggests, The Z3 is just Carbone and Sasser with Tim Palmieri, best known for his work with Kung Fu and The Breakfast rounding out the trio on guitar and vocals.
Organ trios and the music of Zappa are far from natural fits, but The Z3 handles the oft-complicated Zappa compositions with aplomb, delving deep into his cataloge from obscure Mothers of Invention material to later-era musings by the ever-creative Zappa who never failed to amaze with his aural creations.
Although The Z3 performs infrequently, they have gained a local following, yet have taken their interpretations of Zappa’s works overseas, making appearances in 2013 and 2015 at the Zappanale Festival in Bad Doberan, Germany, near the Baltic Coast.