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Saxophonist and bandleader Ed Palermo has been arranging and performing the music of rock icon Frank Zappa for the last twelve years. 25 years ago he assembled a sixteen-piece big band of New York-based musicians which have played regularly at various Manhattan jazz clubs. This album is Palermo's second recording specifically dedicated to Zappa's original music.
Frank Zappa was many things to many people: he was brilliant, zany, creative and a bit crazy, but never truly jazzy. Though recognized as one of the originators of jazz-rock, he once said of jazz music, "Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny." With this album, Palermo's eighteen-piece ensemble (including tenor player Dave Riekenberg and percussionist Emedin Rivera as special guests) attempts to restate Zappa's compositions in a non-conventional jazz style that does succeed to some degree, but never quite convinces you that you're listening to jazz in some fashion.
This is never as evident as with "Mom and Dad/Oh No," a rather sad number containing less than stellar vocals from guitarist Carl Restivo, as well as a fine solo statement by Palermo on alto that nevertheless struggles as a jazz sound. "Pound for a Brown on The Bus" is another example of a rock-infused melody that just falls short of jazz, despite some excellent phrasing by the leader and Ted Kooshian's fine effort on the organ. Then there is the funky version of "Gumbo Variations," not quite what I would have in mind for a spin of pleasant music, but then that's my personal feeling, and I'm sure there are many who would disagree.
Now for the finer qualities of this album, and there are plenty. The disc does include several respectable and yes, somewhat jazzy interpretations of Zappa's music. The opening "RDNZL" is a spirited tune with spurts of fire, featuring a muscular solo by Palermo and nice accompaniment by trombonist Charles Gordon. The arrangements of "Sleep Dirt" and the finale, "Moggio," do the trick for me, as both of these contain real jazzy melodies augmented by Kooshian (organ), Bob Quaranta (piano) and Phil Chester (soprano).
My favorite item on this program has to be the classic title tune, which Palermo does a great job of transforming into a shoulder-moving Latin jazz salsa piece that swings to Rivera's percussion and Ben Kono's tenor shouts. This album is clearly an unconventional, non-traditional big band recording with a message: pay homage to this legendary composer and rock star. Palermo's dedication, commitment and talent as an arranger serve to pull this off as a big band jazz album, albeit an unusual one.
Track Listing: RDNZL; Take Your Cothes 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; Pual Adamy: electric bass; Bob Quaranta: piano; Ray Marchica:
drums; Ted Kooshian: organ; 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.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.