Since 1994, Ed Palermo has arranged and performed over 200 works by the late Frank Zappa, a brilliant musician whose often controversial lyrics distracted people from his gifts as a composer. Putting together a tightly rehearsed band consisting of New York City-based musicians, Palermo has played his charts in nightclubs around the city for over 15 years, while excelling at putting his personal stamp on Zappa's music in a jazz setting, drawing material from different periods in the rocker's career.
The opener, "Night School," was originally composed on the Synclavier, deemed too difficult for musicians to play (though the Ensemble Modern proved up to the challenge before Zappa's death). Palermo and his players dive head first into this complex work, with the leader soloing with gusto on alto sax. Palermo adds a tense bluesy strut to introduce "Echidna's Arf (Of You)" while "Regyptian Strut" showcases Phil Chester's intricate soprano sax and Joe Fiedler's sassy trombone. Longtime pianist Bob Quaranta gets the spotlight in the sarcastic "What's New in Baltimore" and also takes "Dupree's Paradise" into new territory. The setting of "Let's Move to Cleveland" captures the energy of Zappa's live performances (spotlighting Quaranta and a greasy muted solo by trumpeter Ronnie Buttacovoli), so the lack of a closing guitar solo is not a problem. The one non-Zappa track is Palermo's heartfelt arrangement of "America the Beautiful" in honor of his father, with a warm vocal by guitarist Bruce McDaniel.
To appreciate Ed Palermo's Big Band, one has to see them perform in person, as their energy is even more potent. This is another memorable tribute by Palermo to his hero.
Night School; Echidna's Arf (Of You); Regyptian Strut; Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?; Dupree's Paradise; What's New in Baltimore; Let's Move to Cleveland; America the Beautiful.
Ed Palermo: leader, arranger, alto sax; Paul Adamy: electric bass; Ray Marchica: drums; Bob Quaranta: acoustic piano; Ted Kooshian: Kurzweil; Bruce McDaniel: guitar, vocals; Cliff Lyons: lead alto sax, clarinet; Phil Chester: second alto sax, flute, piccolo, soprano sax; Bill Straub: lead tenor sax, clarinet; Ben Kono: second tenor sax, flute, oboe; Barbara Cifelli: baritone sax, Eb mutant clarinet, bass clarinet; Charles Gordon: lead trombone; Joe Fiedler: second trombone; Matt Ingman: bass trombone; Ronnie Buttacavoli: lead trumpet; John Hines: 2nd trumpet; Steve Jankowski: 3rd trumpet; John Palermo: mandolin (2, 3, 6), guitar (8); Veronica Martell: vocals (8); Rob Paparozzi: bass harmonica (7).
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