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Ed Palermo Big Band: The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren (Cuneiform)

Review of album inspired by the music of Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren

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Cover of Ed Palermo Big Band album The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren
Cover of Ed Palermo Big Band album The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren

Even in jazz, the importance of interpretative art is still questioned. The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren is Exhibit A—OK, Z—for the defense. Even as guitarist/saxophonist/bandleader Ed Palermo contrasts Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren in his liner notes, describing the opposite roles of the two rock polymaths, he and his eccentric big band brilliantly reconcile their oeuvres.

It would be a mistake to suggest that Palermo renders them indistinguishable. For one, he concentrates lyrical arrangements on Rundgren’s side: seven, to Zappa’s two. For another, instrumental or no, Zappa’s ruthless complexity is an easy contrast to Rundgren’s (admittedly ambitious) tunesmithery. Palermo may stack Rundgren’s “Influenza” with woodwind densities (and baritonist Barbara Cifelli’s killer lead), call-and-response brass and a fiendish Katie Jacoby violin solo, but it remains immediate and ingratiating. Nor does layering sunny doo-wop vocals onto the tendrils of Zappa’s “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” simplify them.

What these treatments do instead is to provide the two composers entrees to each other. Following “Echidna’s Arf” is still a maze, but its harmony segues beautifully into the luminous vibes of “Hello It’s Me,” which has vocal harmonies of its own and gorgeous horn charts that flow naturally therefrom. (Not coincidentally, the harmonies of both are all overdubs of singer Bruce McDaniel.) Similarly, Rundgren’s blues-rock jam “Kiddie Boy” follows organically from Zappa’s propulsive “Big Swifty,” not least because Palermo’s FZ-indebted guitar workout threads through both tunes.

Zappa and Rundgren do occasionally cross each other’s turf. The latter’s “Yer Fast” shares the former’s preoccupations with casual sex (and colloquial spellings), and Palermo sequences Zappa’s goofy “Montana” alongside Rundgren’s goofy “Emperor of the Highway” (with Mothers alum Napoleon Murphy Brock singing on both). Ultimately, Palermo makes both artists’ music sound like something Ed Palermo would do.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren by Ed Palermo Big Band on iTunes.

Read Mac Randall’s Overdue Ovation profile of Ed Palermo from the May 2017 issue of JazzTimes.

Originally Published