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The Ed Palermo Big Band: Oh No! Not Jazz!

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Ed Palermo’s righteous fixation on Frank Zappa has been documented previously in three other volumes wherein the saxophonist and arranger retools the late genius’ work for big band. This fourth outing is a double-CD that features Zappa music on disc one and Palermo’s own on the second. The Zappa half doesn’t muck with the formula, but it does add some choice nuggets to the ever-growing Ed-does-Frank canon. The Palermo half is just as good, in some ways better.

The collection gets off to an audacious start with the 11-minute “Inca Roads,” an epic first recorded by Zappa on 1975’s One Size Fits All album with the late George Duke on vocals. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Napoleon Murphy Brock was in Zappa’s band at that time and Palermo wisely brings him in to sing the tune. Brock’s take is soulful and at times riotous enough that you kind of wish he’d stick around to contribute more. The arrangement retains the space-rock feel of Zappa’s while easily lending itself to Palermo’s big-band vision.

Palermo is nothing if not ambitious. He’s comfortable enough after two decades of working with Zappa music to delve into a complex creation such as “Lumpy Gravy,” the theme from Zappa’s first fully realized orchestral work. And he’s also savvy enough to know to trim it and throw some funk at it-Ronnie Buttacavoli’s trumpet and Bill Straub’s tenor saxophone give a downtown edge to the piece that Zappa’s quite-serious original reading lacked.

Free to make his own statement and unbound by another composer’s ideas, Palermo takes greater risks on his own material on disc two. At times that means setting the big-band formula aside altogether, or at least swatting it around a bit. And the set-closing take on the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy” (one of two non-Palermo tracks here) is monstrously good.

Originally Published