PalermOHNOEd Palermo's Big Band gives a double-dose of big-band jazz so good it's scary.....

Oh No! Not Jazz!!
Artist: The Ed Palermo Big Band
Label: Cuneiform Records
disk 1: 8 tracks / 53:11 disc 2: 11 tracks / 68 minutes

Heroically saving the damsel in distress from the sax monster on the cover of his latest project, Ed Palermo continues his crusade to bring Big Band renditions of Frank Zappa's music to the masses. The two-CD set is called Oh No! Not Jazz!! Jazz may or may not be a scary prospect for you, but Palermo serves up two varieties this time, keeping the Zappa material on disc one and featuring mostly his own compositions (with the exception of the first and 'last' tracks) on disc two.

One of the things that Frank Zappa seemed preoccupied with was 'cheap' horror films (as exemplified by his song, "Cheepnis," strangely missing here). Palermo picks up the theme on the album's art work, credits, and liner notes – even the CDs are halloween orange and black! Of course, another Zappa-ism is 'jazz is not dead – it just smells funny.' Well, the jazz here smells fine – nothing to be afraid of...

On the Zappa compositions Ed performs his musical alchemy, preserving the integrity of the compositions while translating them into the voices of Big Band. Right off the bat there's a special treat – not only do we get the stunning "Inca Roads," but we're treated to Zappa alumnus Napoleon Murphy Brock on vocals. "The Uncle Meat Variations" is served up next with every twist and turn wonderfully intact, with Palermo's crack horn section stating the melodies crisply and with wonderful dynamics. This is a great companion piece for "The Dog Breath Variations," which even in its original form had a big, horn-heavy be-wop vibe to it.. Between these tracks is one of Zappa's earliest jazzy efforts, featuring a fine trombone work of Charley Gordon - the smoky, moody "Little Umbrellas," from the Hot Rats album. The title track from Zappa's Chunga's Revenge is sonically expanded with some full-bodied horn section work, while Katie Jacoby's fiery violin solo, swinging with bluesy abandon, evokes the tone of Don 'Sugarcane' Harris. "Lumpy Gravy" gets a swinging treatment that takes the song beyond its original 'novelty' status and blows it wide open – hot stuff! "The Black Page," in all its complexity, is presented in tasty big-band style, with the familiar themes coming in strong at about the minute and a-half mark and continuing right to the tight-as-a-drum ending.

Of course, Zappa fans remember that Frank also asked the question, "Does humor belong in music?" His answer was obvious, and Palermo seems to agree. On "America Drinks and Goes Home" Ed gives us a Sinatra-like character (performed by Mike James) singing the lyric (and proving that Zappa – if he wanted to – could churn out mock-standards at the drop of a fedora). Mike plays the lounge-lizard / band singer that can't seem to come to grips with the more esoteric arrangement he's trapped in. Palermo's gang is flying and swinging and generally having a good time. On the companion piece near the end of disk two, "Good Night, Everybody! God Love Ya!" James has got the part down to a science, and though his interjections are quite on-target and funny (and - as a warning - somewhat PG) they might distract from some pretty hot playing.

With the exception of "Moosh" (David Leone) and "She's So Heavy" (Lennon & McCartney), the second disc is made up of Palermo originals ranging from the playful Pee Wee Herman-esque "Why is The Doctor Barking?" to the ominous "A Catastrophe (Is Just Around the Corner)" to the dreamy and romantic "Nostalgia Revisited (For Susan)." Ed's music is whimsical and intricate – no surprise, since those are also two aspects of Zappa's music – and the 'Palermo disc' features wonderfully inventive soloing by Ed himself and various members of the band - each one deserving high praise for their contributions. The arrangements ('all songs disgustingly and despicably deranged by Ed Palermo,' is how the liner notes put it) allow for great interplay and dialog between the instruments (listen to "A Catastrophe") and generously leave room for some great soloing from all the major players. Hey, even the drummer gets some, on "Let's Reproduce"!

Bottom line: plenty of good playing, a good dose of humor, and not really scary at all.
Unless Big Bands scare you, that is.

-Bert Saraco