Over the course of four previous albums, the Ed Palermo Big Band has fashioned a career out of recasting the music of Frank Zappa in large-format jazz settings-according to Palermo’s website, some 300 arrangements of Zappa compositions in all. This time around, they’ve begun to back away, a little. Roughly half of the tunes on One Child Left Behind are drawn from the Zappa canon; the rest are Palermo originals and other covers (Neil Young, Peggy Lee, Giorgio Moroder’s theme from Scarface). You can’t always tell which are which without a cheat sheet, but that’s a good thing. It means that the EPBB can survive just fine beyond its initial inspiration.
Of the Zappa tunes, both “Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus” and “The Grand Wazoo” come from the 1972 album named after the latter. Here they are given bright, nearly effusive arrangements, the former newly distinguished by Ted Kooshian’s tack piano solo and Bill Straub’s tenor saxophone, the other afforded an accessible treatment that wouldn’t have raised eyebrows if Doc Severinsen had snuck it in one night during his Tonight Show tenure. Three tracks, the funkiest of the lot, feature the vocals of Zappa alumnus Napoleon Murphy Brock, but the true acolytes will likely be most curious about “Evelyn, A Modified Dog” and the band’s take on Los Lobos’ “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” both sung capably but not memorably by Patrice “Candy” Zappa, Frank’s younger sister.
Palermo’s three originals more than hold their own. The title of “Dirty White Bucks” might suggest a nod to Zappa’s obsession with 1950s teen culture, but it’s not a Ruben & the Jets outtake; rather, it’s a real swinger of a tune, full of drama and animation. “Vengeance” projects a film-noir ambience while “The Goat Patrol” confirms that-to paraphrase an album title from the man-for this well-oiled 17-piece unit, one size doesn’t fit all.