Continuing my occasional penchant for jazz rock in a “big band” style, viz-a-viz Gavin Harrison’s Cheating The Polygraph and The Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble with Not Dark Yet, both fine and fairly recent examples of this seemingly resurgent sub-genre, I arrive at the ever eclectic Cuneiform Records artiste Ed Palermo and his Big Band. And what a joyous collection of tunes awaits me, running with many musical styles into the bargain.
Ed Palermo has made his name over the last 20 years or so with his zesty interpretations of Frank Zappa tunes, so he’d better watch he doesn’t get sued…only kidding, I think? Not for Mr Palermo the mining of one particular seam in pursuit of a musical theme, oh no. This expansive album covers all bases, beginning with six instrumental numbers in modern jazz rock big band mode, showing off the tightly knit ensemble playing of the group, shining an occasional spotlight on soloists, be they trumpets, trombones, drums, a haunting violin, a fusion guitar, saxophones, or a piano.
The opener Cleetus Awreetus Awrightus gets proceedings off to a steamy start and features honkytonk piano and a gloriously dirty sax solo as it weaves its Latino way through the sexy knickers drawer. Fifty-Fifty is a great advertisement for the band’s collective and individual talents, storming out of the traps with a blast of Zappa-esque guitar before becoming an example of the splendidly involving ensemble playing in evidence throughout the album, while also featuring short but delightful trombone, sax and piano solos. The sheer variation in those first six numbers, four of which were composed by Zappa, serve to highlight the vast scope of Uncle Frank’s compositional range. Of the other two Dirty White Bucks is one of only three tunes composed by Palermo on the album, and Scarface was of course written by Giorgio Moroder.
After those introductory six tracks one is lulled into a false sense of security, but with the arrival of Harvest Moon and the appearance of vocals, the album takes a turn for the unexpected. This well-known Neil Young tune, which I consider while I lie in the bath, crooning along in my own wracked – or is that wrecked? – version of a more sonorous vocal range, would be better sung in baritone than the tenor of the singer, lends itself naturally to the languid swing take presented here, punctuated by muted trombone.
From then on we get all manner of funk, soul, blues, and crooner vocals coming out of the speakers, and it has to be said the album is a delight, and I’m grinning like a kid in a sweetshop. A finger-poppin’ take on Zappa’s Pygmy Twylyte and then turning his Po-Jama People into a street-funk workout in the manner of Gil Scott Heron are just two examples of Palermo’s cheeky but always winning arrangements. Incidentally, both those songs are sung by former Zappa singer Napoleon Murphy Brock, keeping it in the family so to speak. The album fair zips along, so much so that one can almost overlook Zappa’s frequently inane “comedic” lyrics. A brilliant musician he definitely was, a comedian he certainly wasn’t.
Things take a breather during a selection featuring Los Lobos’ Kiko And The Lavender Moon, sung in sultry tones by none other than Candy Zappa, Frank’s sister, and into the second Palermo-penned number, Vengance, which swings low, baby, and on into Evelyn, a Modified Dog, again with vocals by Candy. The swing continues with jazz chanteuse Jenna McSwain leading Village of the Sun, the album only returning to the previously established jazz ensemble territory on the intricate and expansive The Goat Patrol. A nice surreal semi-spoken storybook take on Lieber and Stoller’s Is That All There Is features a humorous conclusion that includes “I hate Frank Zappa’s music, I always have…it sucks, but I need the money”, which I’m fairly sure wasn’t in the original! Playing out with Zappa’s typically convoluted Andy, this album has been a really enjoyable ride from start to finish. For fans of Frank, obviously, but anyone with a musical ear should be able to appreciate this fine album. Recommended.
01. Cleetus Awreetus Awrightus (3:48)
02. Dirty White Bucks (4:39)
03. Spider of Destiny (2:37)
04. Scarface (2:24)
05. Grand Wazoo (2:20)
06. Fifty-Fifty (5:56)
07. Harvest Moon (4:49)
08. Pygmy Twylyte (2:57)
09. Po-Jama People (5:25)
10. Kiko and the Lavender Moon (4:08)
11. Vengeance (5:29)
12. Evelyn, a Modified Dog (1:24)
13. Village of the Sun (3:24)
14. The Goat Patrol (5:48)
15. Is That All There Is? (2:34)
16. Andy (7:59)
Total time – 65:44
Ed Palermo – Band Leader, Arranger, Alto Sax
Barbara Cifelli – Baritone Sax, Eb Mutant Clarinet
Matthew Ingman – Bass Trombone
Charles Gordon – Lead Trombone
Ronnie Buttacavoli – Lead Trumpet
Katie Jacoby – 6-string Violin & Regular Violin (as designed by God)
John Bailey – Trumpet (but not the Lead Trumpet)
Clifford Lyons – Lead Alto Sax, Clarinet
Phil Chester – 2nd Alto Sax, Flute, Piccolo, Soprano Sax
Bill Straub – Lead Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet
Ben Kono – 2nd Tenor Sax, Flute, Oboe
Michael Boschen – Trombone (but not the Lead Trombone)
Ray Marchica – Drums
Paul Adamy – Electric Bass
Bob Quaranta – Acoustic Piano
Ted Kooshian – Electric Keyboards
Bruce McDaniel – Guitar, Vocals
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalogue#: RUNE 420
Year Of Release: 2016