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January/February 2007

Ed Palermo Big Band
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
Cuneiform Records

More than perhaps any other 20th-century musician, Frank Zappa celebrated both the visceral and the cerebral, obscuring and enhancing his memorable melodies with mercurial, complex harmonies, irregular variations on rock and funk rhythms, and bawdy humor mixed with real pathos. On his second album of Zappa arrangements for big band, Ed Palermo and his big band celebrate that musical legacy by re-imagining nine Zappa songs from a jazz perspective.

Palermo developed these charts during years of live shows with these musicians, and their mastery of the material shows in the performances, which turn on a dime yet feel fierce with spontaneous invention. “RDNZL” tracks Zappa’s dizzying excursions with remarkable fidelity while still carving out space for imaginative solos by saxman Palermo and his fellow players. Coruscating solo turns alternate with richly colored composed passages on “Pound for a Brown on the Bus” and “Gumbo Variations.” Palermo creates a memorable atmosphere in “Sleep Dirt” by setting Phil Chester’s soprano sax solo and some other high-end melodic filigree against a rhythm section rife with bass undertow. A medley sharpens the regret of “Mom and Dad” by contrasting it with the defiance of “Oh No,” helped by understated yet effective vocals from Carl Restivo. Palermo’s arrangements and these performances are precise, dedicated, raucous and incisive—just like Zappa himself.

Originally published in January/February 2007
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