Ed Palermo explores 50 shades of UK…

The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1 & 2
Artist: The Ed Palermo Big Band


Label: Cuneiform Records

2 Discs

Disc 1: 10 tracks / 58:49

Disc 2: 11 tracks / 54:48  

Bandleader, arranger, sax-man, and all-around musical GoodFella Ed Palermo continues to dig into his tender growing-up years (see his previous release, One Child Left Behind) to mix, mash, and generally transform songs from the British Invasion into Big Band rave ups. He does this amazing trick using little more than a stick and sixteen or so of his favorite hand-picked brilliant musicians. What he does with the stick I’ll leave up to your imagination….

Okay, so he doesn’t really wield a baton so much as a mean alto sax, but he does wave his arms around a lot and those aforementioned brilliant musicians seem to know what he means when he does that – and the results are pretty amazing. On The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1 & 2 Ed and the gang take the faintest of melodies (The Stones’ “We Love You,” for example) and flesh them out with ensemble horn parts, dazzling solo work, and robust percussion, sometimes peppering the stew with snatches of unexpected musical seasonings (in the case of the aforementioned Stones tune, Zappa’s “G-Spot Tornado” shows up as well as a bit of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”). More intrinsically melodic songs, like “Eleanor Rigby,” keep things closer to the source, albeit tweaking certain elements like tempo and harmony - all the while giving us those exquisite solos (in this case, Ted Kooshian on keys and Katie Jacoby on violin).

Depending on your age and musical leanings, you might not be familiar with each and every one of these songs but you just might want to explore some source material to see where Ed’s coming from – the search will be worthwhile and revealing. Comparing the originals to Ed’s arrangements just might introduce you to some unexplored and interesting territory – for me, it was “Edward, The Mad Shirt Grinder,” a song originally done by Nicky Hopkins and Quicksilver Messenger Service, an interesting song for its day, even with that unwieldy title. Of course, you could explore songs with some more sedate titles, like “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two,” a King Crimson composition. Each of these, by the way, are album show-stoppers and real showpieces for the band. “Edward,” in particular, showcases the ensemble and solo playing of The Ed Palermo Big Band.

Now about that band… Bob Quaranta plays acoustic piano; Ronnie Buttacavoli plays lead trumpet; John Bailey’s on trumpet; Paul Adamy handles the electric bass; Bill Straub does triple-duty on lead tenor sax, flute and clarinet; not to be out-done, Phil Chester plays 2nd alto sax, flute, piccolo, and soprano sax; Ted Kooshian plays electric keyboards; Katie Jacoby plays electric violin; Ray Marchica sits at the drum kit (and plays, too); Matt Ingman plays bass trombone; lead trombone duties go to Charley Gordon; Michael Boschen plays trombone; Cliff Lyons plays lead alto sax and clarinet; Ben Kono plays 2nd tenor sax, flute, and oboe; Barbara Cifelli works out by dragging a baritone sax around along with an Eb ‘mutant’ clarinet, doing all of those rock vocals and wielding a mean guitar is Bruce ‘not that Bruce’ McDaniel (who also produced the album and arranged “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Part 2.” Ed plays alto sax, wrote the arrangements, and waves his arms around a lot – maybe occasionally with a little stick – who knows?

The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1&2 is a generous 21 tracks of big band schizophrenia, and I mean that in the best possible way. Ed takes rock songs – both sophisticated and unsophisticated – and transforms them into high-end big-band compositions infused with energy and humor, and always infused with top-flight musicianship. Procol Harum’s “Wreck of The Hesperus” remains mostly intact, but with horns replacing strings. Jeff Beck’s “Diamond Dust” is fluid and beautifully rendered, with outstanding violin lines by Katie Jacoby. There’s a strong core rock band in the center of the mix on songs like “I Wanna’ Be Your Man” and Green Day’s “American Idiot,” but it always manages to come back to jazz, sometimes hot, sometimes cool and swinging.

Those who want to play ‘where’s Frank’ will have a ball. Phrases from “Inca Roads,” “Little House I used to Live In,” “Oh, No,” and others I’m sure I might have missed, are scattered throughout the album.

My favorite example of this happens in Ed’s cover of Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” which includes Zappa’s “Chunga’s Revenge” and the scat section of Edgar Winter’s “Peace Pipe.” I humbly suggest that the song be introduced henceforth as “The Revenge of High Heeled Albino Boys.” But that’s just me…

Of course, this being an Ed Palermo project, there’s an element of humor that winds throughout the two discs, just in case you get the wrong idea that he’s getting too uppity… From time-to-time, and sometimes even on the outro of a tune or two, comments are made by our Liverpudlian-sounding friends Mick Starkey (Ringo’s ‘cousin’), his semi-fictional friend, Pete Best, and their questionable, but veddy, veddy British manager, Edvard Loog Wanker III. A word of advice: don’t be in a rush to eject the CD from your player – you never know when there might be one of those sneaky ‘hidden tracks’ we used to enjoy back in the day. You’ve been warned.

Now do the right and proper thing and order this album, for Pete’s sake …and Mick’s.

Bert Saraco