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Interpreting the Music of Frank Zappa: Ed Palermo Big Band & Struber Z'Tett

Ken Dryden By

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There have been a number of bands which have recorded rocker Frank Zappa's music over the past few decades, though jazz bands have only been exploring it for a fairly brief time. Two recent discs, one by a bandleader who has devoted himself to arranging 100s of Zappa compositions and another who may have only a fleeting interest, have issued albums primarily devoted to his music.

Ed Palermo Big Band
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

Ed Palermo is a true Frank Zappa-freak who transforms the late rocker's music into exciting big band jazz on Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance. Unlike many of the rock tribute bands to emerge since Zappa's death in 1993, Palermo uses Zappa's compositions as a framework for inspiration, rather than simply trying to recreate what is already available on CD. He takes "RDNZL (an infrequently played work from Zappa's early '70s sextet featuring Jean-Luc Ponty and George Duke) and extends it considerably while also playfully detouring into excerpts from a number of other Zappa works, including "Holiday in Berlin and "Cruising For Burgers . The title track is brilliantly recast as a lively samba (which Palermo jointly arranged with Jose Madera), while "A Pound For a Brown On the Bus adds a long middle section filled with inspired solos by the leader on alto sax, Ted Kooshian (organ) and Bill Straub (tenor sax), with drummer Ray Marchica prominent throughout the piece. "Sleep Dirt showcases Phil Chester's mournful soprano sax with a sinister backdrop. The disc wraps with a wailing treatment of "Moggio . Palermo is overdue to record live, where the musicianship of his band interpreting these challenging charts can truly be appreciated.

Struber Z'Tett
Plays Frank Zappa Live Les Noces de Dada
Chant du Mode

Bernard Struber has also long had a fascination with Frank Zappa's music; his Plays Zappa Live: Les Noches de Dada covers eight Zappa tunes and a few originals. The result is a decidedly mixed bag, as his interpretations stick closer to rock and jazz fusion without the chance-taking that makes comparisons with Zappa's own versions interesting. It is not until the CD's sixth track, "Dupree's Paradise , where one feels the musicians going out on some interesting tangents, particularly during Jean-Marc Foltz' wild bass clarinet solo. "Little House I Used to Live In has its moments but gets bogged down during Fred Norel's violin feature. "Waka Jawaka offers a lot of possibilities, but it is abandoned quickly as the band segues into the leader's rehashing of themes from Igor Stravinsky's "Le Sacre Du Printemps . "Son of Orange County and "Zomby Woof are performed as a long medley, though the latter is rather uneven. Struber's band is a skilled group that is able to tackle this challenging music, but the results are not up to the expectations that arise from hearing their best performances.

Tracks and Personnel

Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

Tracks: RDNZL; Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance; Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula; Pound For A Brown On The Bus; Sleep Dirt; Gumbo Variations; Mom And Dad/Oh No; Moggio.

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: trombone; Joe Fiedler: trombone; Matt Ingman: trombone; Ronnie Buttacavoli: trumpet; John Hines: trumpet; Carl Restivo: guitar, vocals; Dave Riekenberg: tenor saxophone; Emedin Rivera: percussion.

Plays Frank Zappa Live Les Noces de Dada

Tracks: G-Spot Tornado; Pound For A Brown; The Little House I Used To Live In; Hairy Romance; The Black Page; Dupree's Paradise; La Danse Des Fureurs Pour Les 7 Trompettes; Endless Time (Sippin' My Gin); Waka/Jawaka; Jumpin' Cash Igor; Son Of Orange County; Zomby Woof.

Personnel: Benjamin Moussay: piano, Fender Rhodes piano; Bernard Struber: guitar; Eric Echampard: drums; Fred Norel: violin; Jean-Marc Foltz: clarinet, bass clarinet: Jeremy Lirola: electric bass; Mike Alizon: tenor saxophone; Ray Halbeisen: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Serge Haessler: trumpet, cornet; Andre Pons-Valdes: violin; Guy Frisch: vibraphone, xylophone, percussion.


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