Frank Zappa once quipped that jazz wasn't dead, it just smelt funny. To many people his own highly personal brand of music also gave off a rather strange whiff at times although, since his death in 1993, his orchestral/avant-garde works have received increasingly serious consideration. At the same time Zappa's rock music has inspired a plethora of tribute bands, such as guitarist John Etheridge's Zappatistas and saxophonist Ed Palermo's big band.
Take Your Clothes Off when You Dance is Palermo's second recording of Zappa's music, following Plays The Music of Frank Zappa( Astor Place, 1997). Eight songs from eight Zappa albums roughly cover the first ten years of Zappa's career (only "Moggio, from The Man from Utopia (Barking Pumpkin, 1983), makes it onto the set from Zappa's 1980s work), and give the listener a broad perspective of the jazzier side of Zappa's repertoire.
Under the direction of Palermo this marvelous eighteen-piece band revels in the structural complexity and wonderfully melodic conceptions which characterized Zappa's prolific yet all too short career.
Theses are no slavish reproductions either. Zappa, who on his final tour played a reggae version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven, would no doubt have been tickled by Palermo's slick salsa interpretation of the song "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, a throwback to Palermo's days in Tito Puente's band.
"Gumbo Variations, from Zappa's seminal jazz-rock album Hot Rats (Zappa Records, 1969), weighs in at a third of the original song's seventeen minutes and rocks like hell. Carl Restivo takes the album's only guitar solo, wild and hugely enjoyable.
Less predictable material is visited. Zappa's acoustic gem "Sleep Dirt highlights Palermo's wonderful arrangement as much as it does Zappa's ability to pen a sensitive, beautiful tune.
Like Zappa, and Duke Ellington before, Palermo's main instrument is his band. And with him at the helm it manages to capture perfectly the spirit of Zappa's music whilst stamping its own authority on the adventurous arrangements with its exuberant, joyous ensemble playing and in the quality of the solos.
Ed Palermo, with impeccable olfactory taste, has done both big band jazz and Zappa's music a huge service. If you didn't like big band jazz before, then the riotous, swinging celebration that is Take Your Clothes off When You Dance may well be the record that converts you. If you didn't get Frank Zappa's music, then this record might make you consider his vast musical legacy in a whole new light.
Personnel: Ed Palermo: alto saxophone; Paul Adamy: electric bass; Bob Quaranta: piano; Ray Marchica: drums; Ted Kooshian: organ, synthesizer; Cliff Lyons: alto saxophone, clarinet; Phil Chester: alto and soprano saxophone, flute; Bill Straub: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ben Kono: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Barbara Cifelli: baritone saxophone; Charles Gordon, Joe Fiedler, Matt Ingman: trombone; Ronnie Buttacavoli, John Hines: trumpet; Carl Restivo: guitar, vocals; Dave Riekenberg: tenor saxophone; Emedin Rivera: percussion.