There’s often a note of humor in the titles and artwork of arranger/saxophonist/composer Ed Palermo’s recordings (The Great Un-American Songbook featured several British Invasion-era tunes), and this one is no exception: The cover of A Lousy Day in Harlem plays off of the classic 1958 Art Kane photograph of 57 jazz musicians gathered in front of a Harlem brownstone, with Palermo in front of the same building, alone and forlorn.
But that’s where the funny stuff ends; when Palermo gets down to arranging music, he’s dead serious. Unlike previous efforts from him that focused largely on a single composer (more often than not Frank Zappa), this program roams widely. A couple of the numbers—Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” and Gigi Gryce’s “Minority”—come from musicians who appeared in that 1958 photo; the rest are either Palermo originals or interpretations of pieces both contemporary (Renee Rosnes) and classic (Ellington). Throughout, there’s a uniformity in the airtight arrangements and the seamlessly executed playing. Twenty-first century big-band music doesn’t get more exciting and impressive than this.