Ed Palermo’s Big Band explores Zappa and more on the band’s newest release…

One Child Left Behind

Artist: The Ed Palermo Big Band


Label: Cuneiform Records

16 tracks / 67:24    

An adolescent-looking Ed Palermo - in full marching band regalia, big hair, and glasses – is featured in a high school era portrait on the cover of One Child Left Behind, his latest in a series of recordings celebrating an eclectic mix of big band arrangements of songs by a variety of artists. The fact that, more often than not, the artist being covered is Frank Zappa, gives you a clue as to Palermo’s musical era of choice as well as his sense of humor. It was Zappa, after all, who asked the musical question, ‘does humor belong in music?’ Ed obviously agrees with Zappa that the answer is ‘yes,’ although the big band leader certainly is serious about serving up swinging arrangements and impressive soloing on his recordings – and One Child Left Behind is no exception.

No less than nine Frank Zappa compositions are featured on this particular outing, but Palermo seasons his musical buffet with songs by Neil Young (“Harvest Moon”), Giorgio Moroder (“Scarface”), Los Lobos’ Hidalgo and Perez (“Kiko and The Lavender Moon”),  Lieber and Stoller (“Is That All There Is?”), and three of his own delightful compositions (“Dirty White Bucks,” “Vengeance,” and “The Goat Patrol”).

As with his previous projects, the arrangements are crisp and inventive and the ensemble playing is superb. Ed’s crew is pictured on the CD insert by school yearbook photos and hilarious captions that – when read carefully – unfold an interconnected storyline of typical high school trauma. Remember what I said about Ed having a sense of humor….? Barbary Cifelli (baritone sax, Eb ‘mutant’ clarinet), Ronnie Buttacavoli (lead trumpet), Matthew Ingman (bass trombone), Katie Jacoby (violin), Charles Gordon (lead trombone), John Baily (trumpet), Clifford Lyons (lead alto sax, clarinet), Ben Kono (2nd tenor sax, flute, oboe), Phil Chester (2nd alto sax, flute, piccolo, soprano sax), Michael Boschen (trombone), Bill Straub (lead tenor sax, flute, clarinet), Ray Marchia (drums), Paul Adamy (electric bass), Bruce McDaniel (guitar, vocals), Bob Quaranta (acoustic piano) and Ted Kooshian (electric keyboards) are all under the watchful eye of arranger, band leader, sax player, and fuzzy marching band hat holder, Ed Palermo.

Palermo’s compositions are tight, energetic, and have a playful feeling about them, often reminding me of the work of Raymond Scott, many of whose musical themes were adapted by Carl Stalling for use in Warner Brothers cartoons. Ed also manages to find the best, jazziest core of songs like Young’s “Harvest Moon,” creating a classic dance band vibe, with McDaniel doing a very convincing turn as the crooner. Candy Zappa (Frank’s sister) provides understated but enjoyable vocals on her pair of songs (“Kiko and The Lavender Moon” and “Evelyn, A Modified Dog”) and Jenna McSwain provides tight vocals with interesting harmony on the wonderful “Village of The Sun.” Mike James is appropriately jaded in his vocal delivery of the over-the-top “Is That All There Is,” playing the frustrated not-quite Sinatra lounge singer railing against his downward-spiraling career and proclaiming “I hate Frank Zappa’s music,” in a bitter, crude – but very funny – rant. Needless to say, the always-amazing and energetic Napoleon Murphy Brock infuses his unique brand of vocalese into “Pygmy Twilight,” “Po-Jama People,” and “Andy,” somehow making “hommina, hommina” sound like it actually belongs there!

As far as the Zappa material goes, Ed once again takes that complex and sometimes hard-to-grasp music, finds the core and makes it easier for a different audience to appreciate – a fine service, indeed. Take, “Andy,” for instance: a song with challenging timing and startling, jarring contrasts in melody, percussion and pace. The Palermo version starts out with a calm, pastoral feel and leads us into all of that good stuff in a way that makes good musical sense and stays true to Mr. Zappa’s original composition. The production, by Bruce McDaniel, is clean and dynamic. The music swings, the solos are many, and all outstanding. Re-read the personnel list and trust me that these folks can play!

There might be a moment or two not for the faint of heart (the ‘bonus track’ that occurs after the official last track of the album might offend the tastes of some), but Ed Palermo once again carries on in the spirit of FZ and branches out into some interesting explorations of other composers while continuing to offer some enjoyable arrangements of his own excellent songs.

-Bert Saraco

For live concert images of Ed, the Big Band, and Napoleon Murphy Brock (and many other concert images) visit  www.facebook.com/express.image

4 and a half Tocks