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Reviews of our latest CD "Oh No! Not Jazz!!" on Cuneiform Records

Oh No! Not Jazz!! consists of two albums of musical performances. The first further explores Ed's distinctive, big band interpretations of the music of Frank Zappa, focusing on Frank's initial burst of creative works from original Mothers Of Invention era of 1966-1970. In addition, two notable, contrasting pieces from Frank's later career: the beloved "Inca Roads," here featuring vocals by guest Napoleon Murphy Brock, and "The Black Page #2," one of Frank's most 'notoriously difficult' works. All of the Big Band's performances and arrangements of these great pieces are fun, musically witty and masterful– as is typical of all Palermo's interpretations. Unlike previous Ed Palermo Big Band recordings, however, the second album in this set features Ed's own colorful compositions: the 1st time they've been presented on a recording in over 25 years!


Sea of Tranquility

all-about-jazz
 

 

Reviews of our 3rd CD "Eddy Loves Frank" on Cuneiform Records

Eddy Loves Frank (Cuneiform)  The third Palermo album of big band interpretations of Frank Zappa material, this disc is marvelous--and precisely what you'd want to play for someone who enjoyed Zappa's Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka albums but was put off by the "funny stuff" that followed thereafter. Bandleader Palermo--who fronts this 16-piece band in New York--has created something unique here, and something that accords Zappa all the respect he has long deserved. Seek it out! - Yahoo Music




Review #1

Review #2

Review #3
(from 12/8/09)

EP Interview
 


An interview with
Ed Palermo
by Simon Barrett

 

Ed's radio interview on WFDU
(mp3 download)


NJ Star Ledger listed our CD
among the top 10 CDs of the year. 
(you have to scroll down a bit
and look under "JAZZ")

NY Times article
July 20, 2012

 7/2/09 review

You CAN Do That on Stage Anymore!
By Brian Carr
September 2009

Tollbooth
+ CD Review
+ Iridium 10/21/09 Review

+ DHPAC 2/5/10
+ Iridium 8/3/11 Review

BC *blogcritics

GUIDE DISQUES
in French from Montreal, Canada


Ahhhh.  Ed Palermo is the only interpreter of Frank Zappa's music who does everything as he should.  First off, he interprets  Zappa's music, meaning that he puts you in his shoes, that he adds his own grain of salt and that he allows himself a lot of creativity.   Also, his Zappa is played by musicians of great style (12 horns, 2 keyboards, bass and drums), that manages to simultaneously sound free and precise.  It's the third opus that Palermo devoted to Zappa's catalogue, and joy is not denied, neither for himself, nor for us.  Night School, Dupree's Paradise or Reqyptian Strut are as enjoyable as the originals.  When can we expect you in our area?

audiophile audition

KittySneezes.com
EP interview July 2010


 

Acid Dragon

‘Eddy Loves Frank’-
a review and interview
by Phil Jackson


from metroland.net


The Ed Palermo Big Band return to Frank Zappa's compositions for the third time with Eddy Loves Frank (Cuneiform). The 17-piece band are capable of the layered and undulating textures that were a hallmark of Zappa's jazz and orchestral writing. From the regal "Regyptian Strut" to the sassy riffing of "Echidna's Arf (Of You)", Frank would be pleased.
- David Greenberger

 


From London, The Vortex
"...downright exhilarating album"

 

EP Interview August 2010
Mediocre Music Blog


 

Reviews of our 2nd CD, "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" on Cuneiform Records

"Wonderful, breathtaking, fantastic, exhilarating, great sound, great production, great musicianship, great sleeve, great concept. I run out of superlatives to describe ‘Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance’. It’s an album that’s not just for Frank Zappa fans, it’s an album for everyone!"-- Review from paradoxone/UK, JAZZ ALBUM OF THE MONTH - OCTOBER 2006


Clouds and Clocks
 

 

Sea of Tranquility





Review  #1   ---  #2

Ed's feature article on Zappa & Jazz

 

Clouds & Clocks:

Interview with Ed
7-12-2006




Click here to listen!

Click here for more info on Listen Here!


Syracuse Jazz Festival - The Post Standard
 

New Jersey Star Ledger
Rockin' big band

Friday, August 08, 2008

BY ZAN STEWART



Great new review by Joseph Taylor
in SoundStageAV.com
April 2008

Click here!
 

 



Archive Reviews

Click on any review:

Downbeat

Washington Post

Mike Keneally

Ron Spiegelhalter

Billboard

Zappanale #13

Bottom Line, NYC 7/25/03

LeisureSuit.net

FZ Tribute in FL

The Music Paper

Drew Wheeler

AMG

 

The Ed Palermo Big Band
Plays the Music of Frank Zappa

July 25, 2003, Bottom Line, NYC

By Brian Carr
 

Vinnie Coliauta, Adrian Belew, Lowell George, George Duke, Chester Thompson, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Terry Bozzio, Jean Luc Ponty, Captain Beefheart. Any critic worth his column inches knows what connects these names: Frank Zappa band alumni who went on to reknown as sidemen, band leaders, influential axe and drum gurus, or to Syd/Salinger-like obscurity.

So with Frank over ten years gone, what could Bob Quaranta, Paul Adamy, Ray Marchica, Carl Restivo, Ronnie Buttacavoli, Johnny Tabacco, and about ten or so others have in common, besides lots of names ending in vowels? Sadly, too few can answer this, though this group shines like the first. Answer: Ed Palermo, whose jazz big band has performed Zappa's music for nine years at NYC's Bottom Line. Even the Beatles didn't last that long, but more on them later.

On July 25th, the band performed their last concert of 2003. Partly to return to his own compositions, Palermo has ended his run of quarterly Zappa gigs, each showcasing fresh examples of his arranging genius. While well-attended on mere word of mouth and their now out of print 1997 CD (with guest soloists like Bob Mintzer and Mike Stern), paying some 20 musicians has produced a negative, well, bottom line. A lack of coverage hasn't helped. "Nine years," noted Palermo onstage, "and not one NY paper has reviewed us." This despite NYC's Zappa stronghold status (even the Philharmonic had a Zappa/Varese show).

 So what have critics been missing? The only comparably entertaining, longer running dose of brilliance is also Palermo's popularity opposite: The Simpsons. As couch potato cognoscenti well know, Simpsons creator Matt Groening was heavily influenced by and later a close friend of Zappa. The show's Zappa-ish score by Danny Elfman (of Tim Burton fame) and Alf Clausen is awash in eclectic, riff and genre referencing tunes. So imagine the Simpson theme played live by some perfectly deranged oompah band which was seamlessly, simultaneously true to Zappa's smoking song segues and Dada quotes, Ellington swing, be-bop improv and classical. And those Beatle guys. Now you've got Palermo.

What makes the Palermo band so great? For starters, Frank's early 70's big band was short-lived, and on each tour for twenty-some years evolving, under-sized groups struggled with a ream of black pages. Palermo, by contrast, has spent a decade fronting a driven core stacked with Broadway pit and session quality stars dedicated to mastering those twisted signatures and 32nd notes. Unique talents keep showing up to make the stew even more amazing. Mr. Tabacco (his real name) is the latest. Looking like he's tight, on-screen and off, with Steve Buscemi, this Hawaiian-shirted, fuzzy L.I. Italian has inherited Zappa's distinctive baritone and engaging, slightly unwashed presence.

Palermo, quite simply, has distilled Zappa to perfection. Not all of Zappa's experiments worked, but none of Palermo's have failed. Luckily, Zappa left a Motherlode for him to mine. Hearing the band's searing horn sections rock and swing through an intricate scoring of Peaches en Regalia, (Zappa's own "A Train" and father to the Simpsons theme), is transcendental. The baritone sax hits your belly's secret b-spot, giving off the same sense of infinite pleasure as the horn runs in Steely Dan's "My Old School." It's Becker and Fagen-level perfection.

Indeed, the music is more beautiful and powerful than Frank could ever manage or maybe imagine. While Frank was pleased, nearing death, that the German Ensemble Modern could execute some of his Synclavier and classical works, Palermo's group, now up to some 100 tunes, revives the soul of nearly the entire Zappa canon, in both music and concept. Frank's tunes have been capably covered in recent years by a French wind quintet, a Swedish wind ensemble, and a Finnish baroque group, among others. All charming, revealing interpretations, but as dead in their own way as Frank. In Palermo, the music lives. He's done for Zappa what Rimsky-Korsakov did for Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," and Ellington/Strayhorn with their Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite. And then some.

Palermo shows are often events, with Zappa alums like Keneally, singer Ike Willis, and sister Candy Zappa sitting in. Once I skipped Palermo's late set to see Ike's band Project/Object a few bars down. It seemed simplistic and unsatisfying. Unlike Project/Object and Zappa-alum group Band from Utopia, also fronted by Ike, Palermo never breaks Frank's ban on pointless solos.

Most solos have a George Harrison or Andy Summers-like economy. Bass player Adamy and drummer Marchica manage to simultaneously rock, swing and groove. With Quaranta's piano, they lay down a steady support fire plus the unexpected chords and rhythm that challenge and drive the soloists. The others watch intently, marveling themselves until the four count from Palermo kicks off another obscure Zappa-theme made magical.

Like Duke and Frank, alto sax/guitarist Palermo lives to hear his band. Slowing an intro to a sonorous, Gershwin-like languor, milking the sweetness of the melody, he holds the pause to savor the silence before the toilet-plunger muted trumpets emit that signature Zappa queef. Watching Palermo conduct a feverish arrangement of Zappa's Synclavier tune, "G-Spot Tornado," as the frenetic polyrhythm gives way to a John Zorn-like acid jazz tenor sax freak out, as he pulls down the band, bit by bit, until only the drummer is beating out a wicked, driving off-beat in support, is a thrilling avante-garde moment, a total train wreck only one bad note away. The bad note never comes.

Zappa broke boundaries, throwing in "Louie Louie," classical motifs, whatever fit. His 1988 "Bolero" was straight Ravel but for a climactic, hilarious "My Sharona" quote, and his "Stairway to Heaven" simultaneously sent up and celebrated that sacred warhorse. Palermo does all this and better, quoting "Inca Roads" here, "Mother People" there, then slipping into Saint Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" (or Stravinsky, Shostokovich, or Brahms). Even to the unconverted, the music is totally accessible and enjoyable, like the Saturday morning cartoon soundtracks of your youth. Watching, you begin listing tunes by others you wish Palermo would cover.

The reworking never ends. Tunes are demolished to essential rhythm and melody and remade into something new, yet true. After retiring the Zappa staple "King Kong," a theme, improv and restatement piece, Palermo re-scored it, brilliantly topping himself. Halfway through, the tune melds into the staccato midsection from "21st Century Schizoid Man," the band firing in perfect sync. You sit thinking, this rocks, I know this, what is it? As the power chord chorus arrives, so does the epiphany. "King Kong meets King Crimson. Oh yeah, that's why music is the best."

So where are the Beatles when you need them? Luckily, they're here too, sure as Frank took on Sgt. Pepper, cover and all, with "We're Only in it for the Money." For Palermo, who's clearly not in it for the money, the final gig segues from the front half of "A Day in the Life" to Zappa's "Waka/Jawaka" to Abbey Road's "The End" (complete with Ringo's taut solo). The encore brings a delicious, straight take on "I Am the Walrus," part of Zappa's ‘88 Beatles medley. At the "Sitting in an English garden..." classical radio dial-switching snippet, the sax section whispers on flutes and piccolo. Then the band stomps back full blast for the "I am the Eggman (goo goo ga joob)" chorus while the audience yells out "Wooo-ooo!" You sing along, too, at one with the Fab Four and Frank. You can't buy that anywhere else on the planet. If you like music one tiny bit, you leave very impressed. Unless you never came. In which case, you'll have to wait for next year's show. Until then, as Frank once said (of Al DiMeola), "Let's hear it for another great Italian."

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Zappanale #13 Review
 

For Zappa, A Smother Of Attention
German Town Steps Up Its Fete of Cult Musician

By Daniel Connolly
Associated Press
Saturday, August 10, 2002; Page C04

BERLIN -- Living in communist East Germany, Wolfhard Kutz used all kinds of schemes to smuggle in his beloved Frank Zappa records: secretive rendezvous with West Germans at highway rest stops; hidden compartments in his car doors; accomplices who sneaked albums across borders.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kutz could pursue his passion openly and created a fan club: the Arf Society, a reference to Zappa's Barking Pumpkin record label.

Thanks to the group, the little town of Bad Doberan, in an economically depressed area near the Baltic Sea, has become the unlikely site of an annual Zappa festival. This week, the town also dedicated a bronze bust of the late American musician in its central square.

The image, of Zappa in the 1970s, "represents him as a rebel and avant-gardist," said Kutz, 47. "That's the way we want to hold him in memory."

The town council initially was skeptical, Kutz said, but gave in after some hard lobbying -- and an Arf Society pledge to pay the equivalent of $10,000 to build and care for the monument. He said the council hopes Zappa will draw tourists.

The town of 12,000 is already something of a magnet for Zappa freaks. Last weekend, the 13th annual Zappanale festival included bands from the United States, Sweden, France and Hungary, and a German-language play called "All About Frank."

The festival started in 1990 when Kutz threw a party and found a band that could play a few Zappa songs. This year, he said, about 2,500 people showed up for each of the three days. Eleven former members of Zappa's band, the Mothers of Invention, played, and two of Zappa's siblings attended.

"It was incredible to see that kind of outpouring of love and respect for Frank," Candy Zappa, Frank's 51-year-old sister, said by telephone from California's San Fernando Valley. She attended the festival with her brother Bob.

"If I'd have known as a little girl living with him that I would grow up and come to a foreign city and see posters of my brother sitting on a toilet, I wouldn't have believed it," she said, referring to a well-known Zappa image that was used as this year's festival poster.

Frank Zappa died of cancer in 1993. Kutz, who owns companies that install cable and antenna systems, saw him perform live once. He had become hooked at age 16 when he heard Zappa's 1969 album, "Burnt Weeny Sandwich," which remains his favorite.

"It was because we were especially restricted, and Frank Zappa strove for freedom and democracy," Kutz said.

Zappa -- a cult favorite in the United States for his quirky, irreverent and often off-color lyrics in tunes like "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," "Dancin' Fool" and "Valley Girl" -- had a significant following behind the Iron Curtain.

Czech President Vaclav Havel said after Zappa's death: "Frank was a friend of our newly emerging democracy . . . a friend of our country."

Vilnius, capital of the former Soviet republic of Lithuania, already boasts a monument to Zappa, erected in 1995.

For Kutz, smuggling the Western records into East Germany and selling copies on the black market was an act of defiance that could have cost him dearly. After the fall of the communist regime, Kutz learned from his secret Stasi police file that he had been under surveillance and that 21 people had informed on his activities.

"I was shadowed my whole life," he said.

Now, Bad Doberan Mayor Hartmut Polzin, 45, said he supports the festival and the new monument, although he doesn't personally see the appeal of the music: "I have to say I'm not the biggest fan."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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He's Not In It For The Money:
Frank Zappa's Big Band Brother Ed Palermo


by Jordan Hoffman
published 3/15/99 on LeisureSuit.net

Soon after Frank Zappa's death late in 1993 I heard about a tour by the so-called "Band From Utopia", a collection of Zappa alum playing (quite well, to be sure) Zappa tunes. I almost went, but, since I'd never had the pleasure of seeing Zappa live (I was still rockin' out to Guns N' Roses during the notorious 1988 tour, Zappa's last) the whole endeavor seemed hollow to me. Why see a Zappa band sans Zappa? I felt this way until I finally checked out an ongoing series happening down at the Bottom Line in Manhattan. Dig this: an 18 piece big band as tight as Buddy Rich's was rearranging Zappa's material into its own unique sound. It seemed simpatico with Zappa's own frequent re-conceptualizing (how many totally different versions of "Trouble Every Day"?) and the only posthumous Zappa ticket worth buying.

The man behind this project is Ed Palermo. Indeed, he has released an album called The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays The Music of Frank Zappa. His show at the Bottom Line still packs 'em in, often featuring surprise guests. I was lucky to chat with him recently and ask a few questions.

Jordan Hoffman: I think your album can appeal even to listeners who don't know or like Frank Zappa. How would you characterize your interpretation of Zappa?

Ed Palermo: I think my interpretations are inspired by my absolute love for FZ's melodies and chord changes, and my desire to put them in a framework that best showcases those elements. It was Frank's personality to arrange in a way that almost obscured the beauty of his melodies. That's what made Frank such an original. He never sentimentalized his work. When I was a kid, I also loved the music of Todd Rundgren, who always sentimentalized his work. So, I think what I do is try to bring out the pathos in Frank's music the way Todd did in his.

JH: What did you learn new about Zappa's music when you began arranging it for big band that you did not know as a listener?

EP: I realized he was more brilliant than I thought! That's kind of a complicated question because almost every tune of his that I've arranged has had me scratching my head saying, "How did he come up with that?"

JH: You list everyone under the sun as an influence, from Todd Rundgren to Sergei Prokofiev. How did appreciation of other composers, as well as your work with a more traditional jazz outfit, affect your interpretation of Zappa?

EP: I guess you could say that any influence in your life will affect your art. If it doesn't, then you're not much of an artist. As to how it affects my interpretation of FZ's music, I don't have a clue. That's one of those questions that I'll have an answer for immediately after you run this interview.

JH: Your album and live set, the two times I've seen you, avoided Zappa's work from the 80s (with the exception of a mindfucker version of "G Spot Tornado"!) Do you plan to expand into this, or are you keeping away from it purposely?

EP: I guess it's obvious that I prefer the older Mothers' material. Actually, we do quite a bit of the 80's stuff (keep in mind I've arranged over 80 FZ tunes thus far), but there are shows where we hardly do any. To be totally honest, there was a period in the late 70's and early 80's where Zappa lost me. Zappa fans, forgive me, but I couldn't stand Baby Snakes (the movie). I didn't like most of the tunes and thought the movie was interminable. And except for a couple classics like "Watermelon in Easter Hay" and "Sy Borg", Joe's Garage didn't thrill me either. To me, the music just lacked Zappa's melodic and harmonic genius. And since no one is paying me for this project, I can only do the material that I truly love, and I'm afraid "Dinah-Moe-Hum" doesn't enter into that category.

JH: There's something of a gender gap with Frank Zappa (at least in my house.) Can you account for that? Do you find this in your work with the Big Band, too?

EP: I think the reason for the gender gap is what I touched on before: Zappa obscured a lot of his gorgeous melodies with weird sound effects that sound like belches and flatulence. He loved the fact that one had to see beyond the "ugliness" to get to the beauty. Add to that the scatological nature of his lyrics, and I think you've turned off a lot of listeners. I, personally, love this about Zappa, but some people don't want to take the time to delve. At the risk of sounding sexist (like Zappa would give a shit if he sounded "sexist") I think most women fall into that category. Most of my audience at the Zappa tributes are male, and I'm constantly approached by their girlfriends with, "I always hated Zappa until I heard your band. I never knew the melodies were so beautiful!" I know this sounds self-serving, but it's true.

JH: Tell us a little bit about the amount of work that goes into one of your Bottom Line shows?

EP: Well, it's quite a lot of work, but it's a total labor of love. First, we usually set the date of the next show within a week of the one we just played. I usually have about 6 weeks between shows. Even though I already have a zillion EP-FZ arrangements to pick from, I always get to work on some new ones. That way, each show is a totally different experience to the ones prior. I really want the audience to experience something special.

Anyway, once the arrangements are done, I bring them into our every Friday rehearsal. Some of the tunes play themselves; they're not insanely demanding. Others, like my new arrangement of "Inca Roads", must be rehearsed slowly and then gradually increased in tempo till we hit the proper speed. My musicians are all incredible virtuosos, but even they have trouble with something like "Inca". Keep in mind, Zappa rehearsed his bands 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. We rehearse once a week for two hours, so I'm really proud of my band.

JH: Will you ever take this show on the road?

EP: We've played several out of town gigs (DC, South Jersey) but each time I've lost more money than I can really afford. So, I'm afraid the answer is probably no. I would love to, though. The DC gig was a blast!

JH: Did you ever meet Frank Zappa?

EP: No. It's one of my deepest regrets. I wish I could have told him how much his music shaped my life and how much total joy it gave me. Oh, well. I imagine he heard it enough in his lifetime.

JH: In the notes to your album, you mention that if you ever get a chance to meet Gail & the kids, you promise to chip in a little for dinner. This begs to be asked about. Can you elaborate on this? Did you not have a good experience working with the Zappa Family Trust?

EP: Actually, that little joke meant nothing. It was just a lame little joke, which is a drag because I think the rest of the liner notes are funny as hell, if I do say so myself.

As to my experience with the Zappas, it goes a little like this: Frank Zappa had been ripped off his entire career by bootleggers and record companies. Add to that the close family bond that the Zappas have, it was inevitable that they would be suspicious of people once again ripping them off. It's really very sweet how loyal they are. Unfortunately, they seem to be suspicious of everybody they don't know and to some they do know. They've never met me, so the only way they have of knowing how sincere I am with this project are with the 4 or 5 letters I wrote to Gail Zappa (Frank's wife) when I started this project 5 years ago. In those letters, I explained to her that the players in my band generally don't get paid enough to pay for their parking on those concert nights, and I always lose money. I also asked for her blessing in continuing Frank's legacy. I never heard back from her, so I decided to go ahead and do the concerts anyway.

Well, 2 or 3 years go by and I finally get a record deal with Astor Place Records. Negotiations between company lawyers and the Zappa estate are slow and strained. At one point, a Zappa lawyer says to an Astor Place lawyer, "Gail is not happy that Ed Palermo is making a living off of her husband's music." MAKING A LIVING?!! It was at that point I realized there was nothing I could ever do to win her over. Like I said before, I understand, and even admire, her loyalty to her husband, but it is just plain delusional to think anyone could make a dime playing, "Dog Breath Variations" with an 18 piece big band. So, it was at that point that I stopped caring whether the Zappas accept me or not. I still wish them the best, because they're Frank's loved ones, but there is only so much I can do. I recently met Gail's sister, Sherrie. What a sweetheart! We met at this Zappa tribute in Florida I was involved with 2 months ago. She couldn't have been nicer. She also brought along her husband and some others, including a beautiful young actress by the name of Lala who happens to be Gail and Sherrie's niece. We all hung out quite a lot during the weekend and they seemed to love the concert, especially Lala, because she spent most of her life in the Zappa household, hearing Frank's music being composed through the walls. She was openly weeping during some of the numbers, as was Sherrie. It was such a beautiful weekend. And all of us (Ike Willis, me, Jerry Outlaw, the great guitarist from a group called Bogus Pomp) kept trying to get Sherrie to relay back to Gail how much we sincerely love this music, how much money we're losing, and mainly, that we are not the enemy. I know Sherrie understood, but it's yet to be seen if she has swayed Gail. Time will tell.

JH: I feel that this album is the only thing Zappa-related to have come out since his death that does something new with the material. Do you have any comment on some of the Zappa cover bands, albums they've released, or the frequent Rykodisc re-releases of Zappa material?

EP: Well, I saw The Band From Utopia play a couple years ago at Irving Plaza and was blown away! I thought they were fantastic! I loved hearing those great players again. Tommy Mars, especially, but they were all great. Their CD is good, too, but not as good as their live show was. They played a really cool original by Chad Wackerman.

My project is different because it would be a waste of my time to try to replicate something that's been done before. It's okay for The Band From Utopia because they are the guys who helped formulate that music. My project has to be my personality or it would be false. The way I see it, as long as I get the melodies and harmonies right, however I dress it up (arrange the music) is my business. If you like it, great! If not, that's cool, too.

I also like the cover bands Project/Object and Bogus Pomp. They're very talented and extremely sincere. You have to be to learn FZ's impossible music.

AND WE'RE ALL LOSING OUR SHIRTS PLAYING THIS STUFF!!

JH: You played a Zappa gig down in Florida with an orchestra? What was that like?

EP: Incredible! I spoke at a symposium the night before the concert along with several very learned Ph.D.s. (I still don't know why they invited me). Anyway, the whole weekend was this incredible love-fest for the music of Frank Zappa. The energy was astounding! The orchestra played the music flawlessly and Bogus Pomp was incredible! I was fortunate to play a couple solos (on alto sax) with them on "Black Napkins" and "Peaches En Regalia". It all happened in St. Petersburg this past January.

JH: Someone from alt.fan.frank-zappa wants me to ask about "that crazy guy in the Alice Cooper makeup." He says you'll know what this means. So I'm asking.

EP: He's referring to Ted Kooshian, my 2nd keyboardist. He's an unbelievably gifted pianist/composer who has added a new dimension to the music by playing (via a sampler) harpsichord, tympani, B3 organ, celeste, glockenspiel, and many other sounds. He can handle any part I throw at him! He's also an extremely bizarre fellow, thus the Alice Cooper makeup.

JH: On a related note, what do you think of die hard Zappa fans and do you consider yourself a member of this club?


EP: Yeah, I think you could definitely consider me a member of this club. I've met many of these folks in the 5 years I've been doing this and I never tire of hearing them thank me for keeping the music alive. I truly appreciate them!! Like I said before, there are quite a few Zappa tunes I don't like, but the amount of tunes that I'm in love with far exceed the ones I don't. I guess you'd have to be hardcore to spend the time I do transcribing this music for no money!

JH: If on a desert island, and were allowed one Zappa album, which would it be? No cheating, you can only name one. I know this hurts.

EP: If you asked me 5 years ago, I would've either said Uncle Meat or Burnt Weeny Sandwich (probably "Burnt Weenie" because of the brilliant "Little House I Used To Live In"--Sugar Cane Harris--pure nirvana!). But since the re-release of 200 Motels, I gotta say, without a doubt, "200 Motels"! A lot of this music went over my head as a kid (I was around 16 when it was first released),but now it just blows my mind! My favorite tracks? "Dental Hygiene Dilemma" and "Lucy's Seduction of a Bored Violinist and Postlude" Absolutely brilliant!

JH: Of course, you have a completely non-Zappa traditional jazz group, as well. Can you tell us a little about that and will they have any albums out soon?

EP: You are referring to my sextet. That's a band called the "Burridge-Palermo Sextet". We play at a club called the 55 Bar. This is the club that Mike and Leni Stern play at all the time. My band's there every other Sunday. The next one is March 28. This band plays tunes by Cedar Walton, Cannonball Adderly, Herbie Hancock, and others. This is mainly a vehicle for me and my co-leader, Bud Burridge, to improvise with. I love it. No albums are set yet for this group. I spend most of my time trying to get this damn big-band off the ground!

If I may say one last thing here about the Zappa project: I truly hope to do this for a very long time because I believe that Frank's music is just as great as the music of Gershwin, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber, Cole Porter, Aaron Copland, and many other American composers. Because of his affiliation with the world of rock and roll, he might not be taken as seriously as those composers for some years to come. Regardless, I feel it's important to keep the legacy alive.

What Edgar Varese was to Frank Zappa, Frank Zappa is to me.

 

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Downbeat magazine
November 1997

On his first Mothers of Invention album, Freak Out!, released in 1965, Frank Zappa quoted musical visionary Edgard Varese: "The present day composer refuses to die." Little did FZ know then how prophetic that statement would be after his own death. During his life, Zappa insisted that the rock & roll side of his multifaceted musical career gave him enough economic security to pursue his true love: composing complex postmodern classical music. Shortly before he passed away in 1993, he insisted that he wanted to be remembered most for his "serious" music. Three and a half years later, while some of his pop-music catalog-which is safe in the hands of Rykodisc-feels dated, musically Zappa’s instrumental works continue to sound fresh, challenging and intriguingly adventurous.

Shortly before his death, there was a scattering of attention to his oddly titled contemporary orchestral works. Zappa was pleased to report that the president’s own U.S. Marine Corps Band in Fairfax, Va., had requested the score of "Dog Breath Variations" and the Connecticut-based dance group Iso was granted permission to choreograph a performance based on The Grand Wazoo. Two new CDs foster further recognition and celebration of FZ’s prowess as a composer. Big band leader Ed Palermo applies his remarkable arranging touch to the iconoclastic maestro’s instrumentals on the appropriately titled Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa, and Strictly Genteel, a superb collection of his works for orchestra.

In the liner notes to his project, Palermo thanks his cohorts (an orchestra with full woodwinds, brass and rhythm sections as well as several special guest soloists) for their talent and enthusiasm by noting, "Folks, this Zappa stuff ain’t easy, but my band mastered all of it." Palermo takes on the FZ challenge as he leads his orchestra through the twists and turns of such well-known works as "Peaches In Regalia," "King Kong" and "Heavy Duty Judy." Palermo’s arrangements do justice to FZ’s compositions, accentuating their musical sophistication as well as amplifying their humor, grace, whimsy and passion. While Zappa’s music is characterized in stretches by dense polyrhythms, atonal melodic lines and odd time signatures, Palermo and crew sail through without sinking. Guitarist Mike Stern and tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer turn in noteworthy solo performances on the spirited, funk- and reggae-inflected "We Are Not Alone" and the swinging "Toads Of The Short Forest," respectively. A couple short non-Zappa works, including the fun "Finale From Carnival Of The Animals" (written by Camille Saint Saens) and Palermo’s own quirky coda, "wai, fu?" fill out the collection well.

-Dan Ouellette

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The Washington Post

Friday June 13th, 1997

Ed Palermo Big Band
"Plays the Music of Frank Zappa"

No doubt "Plays the Music of Frank Zappa" will come as a revelation to listeners who considered Frank Zappa nothing more than a rock-and-roll oddity-part maverick, part instigator, part farceur. But even fans familiar with the breadth and depth of his music-and his even more wide-ranging musical interests-are likely to view this album as an ear-opening experience.

This is truly a work of imagination, after all. In arranging Zappa's tunes for big band, alto saxophonist and guitarist Ed Palermo has thrown new light on his legacy while retaining the composer's original melodic and harmonic designs. A case in point is a two minute musical vignette, "Toads of the Short Forest. " In Palermo's expansive treatment, the piece initially comes across as an airy, light footed jazz waltz, whimsically punctuated by reeds before undergoing a muscular and swinging transformation. Likewise, "20 Small Cigars," another of Zappa's small melodic gems, glistens with new instrumentation, while "Abye Sea/Inca Roads" finds Palermo's band celebrating Zappa's baroque to blues sensibility and sly sense of humor. The arrangements also leave plenty of room for the band's gifted soloists and guests. The latter include guitarist Mike Stern, saxophonists Bob Mintzer and Chris Potter and vibist Dave Samuels.

Palermo and co-producer Bob Beldon chose to leave out Zappa's lyrics, feeling it was better to focus on the musical possibilities. As entertaining as some of Zappa's commentaries are, it proved a wise decision. The music stands-and frequently swings-on its own.
-Mike Joyce

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Mike Keneally's Comments
on his involvement recording with
The Ed Palermo Big Band

THE ED PALERMO BIG BAND
PLAYS THE MUSIC OF FRANK ZAPPA

(Astor Place)
released in 1997

MK involvement: guest guitarist on three tracks

Comments:
I can't conceal the fact that this album, wonderful though it is and a thorough triumph for my bud Ed, makes me sad. That's only because I had to dash into the studio, record my little parts, and dash out again in seemingly a matter of minutes, thanks to the extremely tight recording schedule to which Ed was forced to adhere. As a result my cameo on "Peaches" does not convey anything close to the vibe it should. My solo on "Aybe Sea" starts off tentatively but ends up telling a fairly nice story (nothing compared to Mike Stern's virtuoso turn on "Who Are The Brain Police?/Holiday In Berlin", but there's no logical reason why my solo SHOULD be as good as Mike Stern's) - unfortunately the end of the story, a little collage of "Inca Roads" and "Yo' Mama", has been swept away by the tides of anti-creative corporate evilness and cannot be heard here. "We Are Not Alone" has a long coda featuring an "Abbey Road"-esque series of guitar solos - it goes Palermo, Stern, Keneally, Palermo, Keneally, Stern. My tone bites (not in a good way). I was using an unfamiliar amp but I'm not making excuses - an experienced stylist should be able to have his way with any tin can with string attached through which he's forced to play. The day I showed up for this session wasn't one of my most inspired, and what makes me sad is that a few months before this recording session Beer For Dolphins performed on a bill with the Ed Palermo Big Band, and I played with Ed for practically the entirety of his two sets, not just as guest soloist but as a member of the ensemble, playing parts, and sheer magic occurred from start to finish. I'd hoped to be able to recreate some of that in the studio with Ed and it just wasn't possible - I was merely a guest, after all, and I'm glad just to be a part of it. In any case this CD is invaluable as a document of Ed's vital, intelligent and downright fun arrangements of Zappa material - Ed has every reason to be proud of the result. The definitive Palermo/Keneally document is still to come, I reckon.

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The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays the Music of Frank Zappa
reviewed at great length by Ron Spiegelhalter

I am really enjoying this album a lot. The sound is fantastic. The arrangements, where they vary greatly from Frank's, give the pieces an exciting newness, and although the changes are not *all* entirely wonderful, it would be boring to hear a whole album of note-by-note reproductions of FZ recordings. And this album is anything but boring. The playing is real tight, but not stiff (track one excepted, perhaps). The packaging is perfect: just enough liner notes, just enough photos, a few fun quotes, and multiple gatefolds. (Do the horizontal line patterns in the liner art remind anyone of what you see in some MIDI composition software?) I'm tempted to compare this disc more to Ponty's King Kong than any FZ recordings, and Palermo's effort faces that comparison bravely. A big band can't always be as wild as a smaller ensemble (like on King Kong) but what it loses in spontaneity it more than makes up for intonal richness. A great album; I highly recommend it. 

Peaches En Regalia: This stands out for me as the low point of the disc, unfortunately. I've always preferred the tempo a bit quicker on this tune (I was introduced to the piece via Peaches III, so that figures), although this seems to be about the same tempo as the Hot Rats version. This rendition seems kinda lifeless to me. I'm not real crazy about some of the arrangement choices, either. The opening drum thing threw me off right away, but little differences are often what makes a cover worth hearing, so I ignored it. But the RUM-dee-DUM-dee-DUM right before the guitar comes in turned me off too; it sounds so wooden to me. [Get used to my "dah-dee-dum" method of musical description, btw; there's more to come.] Keneally has said his solo here is not real spectacular, and I agree. None too inspired, but there were time constraints in the studio so I can't say too much about that. The arrangement of the grouped-16th-noteexchanges near the end sounds forced to me, but it's a minor nit. Throughout the track, the playing seems kinda "squareish" and stiff. All very clean and accurate, but not much in the way of inflection. Not a great start, but things get much much better... 

Toads of the Short Forest: Yes, yes, yes!!! One of my very favorite FZ melodies, and I don't have to wince in agony as it goes into that chunka-chunka-chunkidda thing. Bless you, Ed Palermo! The band really makes this melody swing with the kind of energy they could've used more of on the first track. The chord progression proves to be fertile soloing ground indeed, and some of the best soloing on the disc is done right here. Not wailing-a-mile-a-minute soloing, mind you, but thoughtful, articulate and heartfelt soloing that makes great use of the underlying chords. Forget "Peaches", start the disc here and weep at the splendor. The organ solo gives me huge chills, especially as it crescendos into the sax solo. The track fades in the midst of this solo, which is a bummer, but it^s an outstanding track nonetheless. 

Who Are the Brain Police/Holiday in Berlin (excerpt): This is quite well done. An intriguing exploration of the two pieces, featuring a very nice Mike Stern guitar solo. Do I hear a little "Uncle Meat" thrown in for good measure? 

Twenty Small Cigars: A bit fast, me thinks. I love this piece in it's original form, even more so on King Kong; the somber tone of that recording allows for deeper absorption of the exquisite harmonies in the melody. I think this version is trying to pep it up a bit, but the melody ends up sounding rather rushed to my ears. Ultimately, this faster tempo serves the solo section well, as I'm not sure Dave Samuels' great vibes would have been as appropriate to the more "down" arrangement. Overall, it sounds very good. 

King Kong: Is it possible to fuck this piece up? (Actually, I thought the reggae version came close, but to each his or her own). Any band that can't kick ass on this tune shouldn't be playing Zappa at all; the Palermo band does a very nice job of nailing this little bastard to the wall. I'm not crazy about some of the arrangement choices, but again, vive le difference. The track as a whole is really good and lively, if a bit short; I could have used a few more solos (bitch bitch bitch). 

Aybe Sea: This starts off pretty straightforward, arrangement-wise, which is a good thing. Not everything needs to be tinkered with. But then comes Keneally's solo, which is much less straightforward, at least to my ears. Super-fine, Mikey! Do my ears deceive, or does this solo section (MK's playing excluded) turn into the Sharleena solo section, like when Dweezil plays it on _YCDTOSAv3_? The solo section ends in a WICKED abrupt fade into the piano restating the theme; could we not have worked out some sort of segue here? Still, I like this a lot. 

Waka/Jawaka: Wow, caffeine, anybody? Palermo steps up the tempo a notch on this piece and the band makes it work quite nicely. I wouldn't have thought the staccato bursts would be played so cleanly at this tempo. I particularly dig the sax solo. As it was approaching, I sort of expected the guy to rise to the tempo challenge with some balls-to-the-wall 16th-note scale madness flying all over the place. When it comes, however, Chris Potter says "fuck the challenge, I'm playing a solo here" and lays back into the groove beautifully, not even starting right away, building it up only as he sees fit, and only when he's damn good and ready. Very well done, probably my favorite solo on the album. Nice "Idiot Bastard Son" snippet at the end of the track. 

Sofa #1: The band wrings plenty of emotion out of this one, a piece that (it seems to me) would be easy to play dull-ly. My poor grammar notwithstanding, the most surprising thing to me is the change into a steady four for the middle section. The transition into it is quite pleasing, and the transition out is barely noticeable. Very nice sax work by Palermo, and vibes by Samuels. 

The Little House I Used to Live In: A nice lively arrangement on this one. The playing is hot; lots of drive and conviction. A very strong opening. I adore the tone on Mike Stern's beautiful solo. It's funny, the title of this piece never had much of a connection to the music in my mind, but I'll be damned if Stern's solo doesn't make me think of a little house I used to live in. How wonderfully unexpected! 

We Are Not Alone: Where's that dwoinky little guitar thing, god dammit!?!?! You know what I mean, at the very end of the main theme, that DIDdleDIDdledeeDIDdleDIDdledee DWOINK dee-DWOINK dee-DWOINK dee-DWOINK. It was myfavorite part of the track and it's gone! I mean hell, Keneally stuck it in at those Bottom Line shows two Aprils ago, why isn't it here? That aside, however, the track is really hot. The middle section features traded guitar licks from Palermo, Stern and Keneally. MK wrote in his discography who's playing when, but I say fuck it, it all sounds great! Nice overall; the ending is a bit abrupt. 

wai,fn? (written by Palermo) I'm guessing this stands for "what am i, fucking nuts?" Sounds good tome. As does this track, although it starts as abruptly as the previous one ended (I could see that being done intentionally, I guess). The opening sax jam is very "Grand Wazoo". It goes into a really nifty piano-harpsichord thing, then the band comes back and polishes the whole thing off in grand fashion. A fun and fitting tribute to end a...well, a fun and fitting tribute. A quick track which beats the hell out of "How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That" as far as I'm concerned. If you're going to put an original track on a tribute album, this is how it should be: short and sweet. Kudos! 

In summary, I'm very impressed with this disc. I find it to be an excellent companion piece to King Kong, as though they represent FZ as filtered through either hemisphere of the brain. I don't know if Palermo will ever record a follow-up Zappa disc, but if he does I will buy it without hesitation. Pick this one up right away!

--ron

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Ed Palermo Big Band
Still Freaking Out The Bottom Line

Live on 12/14/98
by Drew Wheeler

"LET'S HEAR IT FOR another great Italian . . ." was how Frank Zappa sometimes introduced such band members as Vinnie Colaiuta or Warren Cucurillo. These days, the "another great Italian" revered by Zappa fanatics is Ed Palermo, whose 18-piece Big Band has been playing Palermo's brilliant interpretations of Zappa's music for over four years at New York's Bottom Line. Palermo's Bottom Line Zappafests have become an every-couple-of months-or-so tradition, Ed Palermo documented in small part by his outstanding 1997 Astor Place album The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa, that featured guest stars Mike Stern, Dave Samuels, Bob Mintzer, Chris Potter and ex-Zappa frontman Mike Keneally. "I'm not a famous guy," Palermo told me when I asked for his professional history. He graduated college and moved to New York with hopes of making his way in jazz as a tenor saxophonist, but soon became more interested in writing and arranging. While playing tenor for Tito Puente, Palermo put together a nine-piece band, which was expanded into the Ed Palermo Big Band. In the early 1980s, the group was in Monday night residency at the Brecker Bros.-owned club Seventh Avenue South. Palermo's first album, Ed Palermo, featured Randy Brecker, Dave Sanborn--"This is when Sanborn was still affordable" said Palermo--and Edgar Winter. The album was released on a label called-with shades of Zappalogical nomenclature--Vile Heifer Records. His second album, Ping-Pong, was released by Pro Jazz Records. In 1991, the life long Zappaphile in Palermo asserted itself and he began to transcribe Zappa's music and arrange it for a big band, starting with such early-days classics as "King Kong" and "Toads Of The Short Forest." Before the first EP-plays-FZ show at New York's Bitter End, Palermo posted a notice for the show on an Internet Zappa bulletin board. "Up until then, my own shows at the Bitter End were drawing next to nobody," said Palermo. "For some reason, the word got out about the Zappa show and the place was swamped. And it was incredibly exciting--people there were Zappa fanatics. A couple people drove down from Montreal, a couple people from Boston. And I thought, 'Man, this is something special here.' "As much fun as the Bitter End show had been, Palermo saw it strictly as a one-off event, until he was contacted by Alan Pepper of the Bottom Line, where the series has remained ever since. Although Palermo has made repeated attempts to contact Zappa's widow Gail Zappa about the on going project, he has never heard back from her. "I'm not doing this to capitalize on Frank's death," said Palermo, "It's just that there are some people out there who love the music so much that they're willing to spend a significant amount of their time arranging and performing it." As to notions that Palermo is "making a living" off Zappa's music, he replied: "You can't make a living playing in a tribute band, let alone a Frank Zappa tribute band where you've got 18 members of the band. Financially, everyone loses on this thing. "Ironically, the Palermo Big Band Zappa shows are wildly creative, technically dazzling and sometimes zany affairs--proving themselves utterly faithful to the spirit of Frank Zappa. "I used to worry about saying something that would offend the Zappas," Palermo concluded, "but I realized a long time ago that there's nothing that I'll ever be able to do to get them to appreciate what I'm doing." Performances by the Ed Palermo Big Band hew closely to Zappa's seamless execution, with the Ed Palermo band playing for at least a half hour before the first break between songs. They opened with "Theme From 'Run Home Slow'," from the early '60s soundtrack Zappa wrote for the movie of that name. That segues into vocal number "Son Of Orange County," then without pause into the bittersweet chiming of the solo piano intro to "Absolutely Free." On "Zoot Allures," Zappa's sustained, whang-barred chords are transformed into a thick carpet of woodwinds. Palermo's powerful big band blasts give gospeloid tune "Uncle Remus" the kind of depth of soul typical of Muscle Shoals, while the chorus of "Cruising For Burgers" embraces a reedily lovely Renaissance/madrigal style. Palermo builds the bluesywah-wahed guitar line from "Get A Little" into a big band chart and on1966 tune "Status Back Baby"--which originally featured quotations from Stravinsky's "Petrouchka"--Palermo artfully folds two snippets of the famed ballet over on itself. The final tune of the evening is "Eddie Are You Kidding?," which was an FZ throwaway, but its revival affords Palermo an irresistible cue to insist that no, indeed he is not kidding, the show is coming to a close. Palermo clearly loves Zappa's music as much as he loves putting witty new spins on it. "What I do is my interpretation of it," he said. "As long as I get the melodies right and the harmonies right--rhythmically, I mess around with rhythms more than the other stuff--but as long as I get the melodies and harmonies right and don't fluff over them, then I've done my job. From that point on, it's just my interpretation and my personality doing this music." And also in keeping with the Zappa approach, Palermo sprinkles cover tunes throughout the set--some that were in Zappa's repertoire, some not. Palermo plays Little Richard's "Directly From My Heart To You" as Zappa did, but with wonderfully rolling saxophone accompaniment. They also covered the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," which was actually in the FZ set list on his final tour. The evening's other covers were Edgar Winter's "Jimmy's Gospel" (from his 1970 Entrance album, which Palermo plans to arrange stem-to-stern for some future performance) and the ludicrously giddy rev-up of a melody from "The Nutcracker Suite" called "The Nutrocker." It had been also covered by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but was originally a 1962 top 40 hit by some LA session players who called themselves B. Bumble & The Stingers. Their other notable covers not in the evening's program are Todd Rundgren instrumental "Breathless," Jimi Hendrix' "Rainy Day," Los Lobos' "Kiko And The Lavender Moon" and Tony Williams' "Snake Oil." The also play delightful work-ups of Beach Boys tunes "Sail On Sailor" and "Disney Girls." (Of the latter song, Palermo noted: "We would never play that at the Bottom Line, because it's such a beautiful corny little tune--it's so corny that the Zappa audience might throw things at me.") Other nuggets they've played include Jeff Beck tunes "Definitely Maybe," "Rice Pudding" and "Diamond Dust"; the Beatles' "Good Morning" and "Good Night"; ELP's "Bitches Crystal"; and Jaco Pastorius' "Three Views Of A Secret. "Keneally is the one ex-Zappa musician who's appeared with Palermo's group the most, although former FZ lead singer Ike Willis has done a couple guest appearances as well--although he failed to show up as promised at a Bottom Line show last summer. "It didn't matter," said Palermo. "The night he didn't show up, the band sounded so good I didn't care to be perfectly honest. I mean, I cared, because it's always fun playing with him, but the fact of the matter is the band is the focal point for me. "Indeed, Palermo has a strong, at times seemingly telepathic, connection to the band that crowds the small Bottom Line stage. His loose style of conducting belies an ability to shift the band's gears at a moment's notice--or to give another chorus to a soloist who's really on a roll. Palermo, who sometimes plays alto sax or guitar as well, leads Cliff Lyons (flute, clarinet, alto saxophone); Chuck Fisher, (flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone); Jeff Lederer (flute, tenor saxophone); Al Hunt (piccolo, flute, oboe, soprano & baritone saxophones, bass clarinet); Phil Chester (piccolo, flute, soprano & alto saxophones); Liesl Whitaker, Jami Dauber, Ronnie Buttacavoli and Elaine Burt (trumpet); Dan Levine and Dale Kirkland (trombone); Jack Schatz (bass trombone); Bob Quaranta (piano); Ted Kooshian (harpsichord, organ, synthesizer); Paul Adamy (electric bass); Ray Marchica (drums); and Carl Restivo (vocals). The Ed Palermo Big Band also has its own site. Many of Palermo's crew earn their livings from Broadway orchestras or session work. "I try to tell the guys, it this is your main source of income, don't have any kids," he explained. Palermo himself will take gigs at weddings to make ends meet, but he's never sought a non-musical means of getting by. "I'm proud to say that I haven't got a straight gig," he said. "All I do is music. I also do a lot of a lot of arranging for those society bands, the type of bands that do corporate gigs." Palermo is a composer, and while his band often rehearses his pieces, they remain mostly unheard. What about an evening entitled "Ed Palermo Plays The Music Of Ed Palermo?" "The guys in the band keep saying that. I'd love to. In fact, down the line, I'll have a night somewhere. Do my own music and no one will show up," he concluded with a laugh. Although Palermo's next record won't be for Astor Place, he has ventured back into New York's Power Station recording studio, where he's recorded versions of Zappa tunes "Regyptian Strut" and "Cy Borg," as well as Rundgren's "Breathless." Still, Palermo wonders if all the tracks he's recorded are complimentary, as Zappa's eccentric melodies would sit beside his big band chart for Neil Young's folky "Harvest Moon." "It's like Nelson Riddle meets Neil Young" enthused Palermo. It's a juxtaposition that surely would've made Frank Zappa smile.

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Billboard magazine

CD review, 2/15/97

For the past few years, guitarist/saxophonist Ed Palermo has been honing his tribute to Frank Zappa with a series of live shows at the Bottom Line in New York. Palermo and company have finally documented several of their crafty interpretations, and the result is "Plays The Music of Frank Zappa," due from the Astor Place label in May. The bandleader has chosen to reconfigure some of Zappa's most gorgeous and iconoclastic pieces, including 'Toads Of The Short Forest," "Twenty Small Cigars," "Waka/Jawaka," and "Mother People." Guitarist Mike Stern, vibist Dave Samuels, and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter each participate on the date as guest soloists.

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Zappa Tribute Featuring
Ed Palermo Big Band

Live at the Bottom Line, NYC

by Sal Cataldi, The Music Paper

The body may be dead, but the music and the underground which came to love the man and his work are very much alive. Zappa shed the mortal coil a year ago, but you'd never know it from the packed house of fans - of all ages and Zappa eras - who jammed The Bottom Line on a cold, rainy December Monday. The reason? To see Old Soul Piece's infinitely diverse works interpreted by a group of his most diehard worshipers: the 18-piece Ed Palermo Big Band.

In case you haven't noticed, a living, breathing big band is a rare occurrence these days. For a leader, launching such a dinosaur is a prescription for certain frustration and financial suicide unless you're a Janet Plastic Face who can afford to cart along a coterie of jiggle boys and girls and let the Mac take care of the music-making. Palermo, a talented arranger who can also make an alto hop like Bird or go greasy like Cannonball, should be commended for a lot of things, but mainly for his ability to first craft great charts and then gather together solid talent and lead them on a difficult mission where the rewards are limited to the joy of art alone.

Since shortly after Zappa passed on, Palermo and band (three trombones, six saxes, four trumpets, two singers, piano, bass and drums have been playing concerts dedicated to Zappa's music, principally for peanuts at The Bitter End. The show witnessed at The Bottom Line was a great pleasure from a musical perspective, and a bargain to boot. The band performed impeccable Palermo arrangements of 33 tunes, unexpected cult faves from the mid '60s through the '90s.

After a brief intro from "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" the band swung hard into the rolling thunder of "King Kong." From the jump it was evident who the standouts were - drummer Tommy Igoe and bass player Paul Adamy - who drove the band, smoothed out several rough spots and pushed soloists like "Kong" trumpeter Rick Savage to the edge of their talents (the only place to be, no matter how talented).

Naturally, the repertoire relied heavily on mid-era Zappa - the offbeat orchestral chamber music and big band avant discs like Burnt Weeny Sandwich (my desert island offer, buy it todayl). Weasels Ripped My Flesh, The Grand Wazoo, Waka/Jawaka and, of course, Hot Rats. Palermo and band should be noted for their delicate renderings of pieces like 'Toads Of The Short Forest," "Oh No" and "Dwarf Nebula," where the reed section went to oboes, flutes and piccolos.

But by in large, they swung the tunes, giving pieces like "Sofa" a driving, gospel feel with percolating brass chordal backdrop for soloists. The set had great pace, moving quickly and interestingly between unexpected segues and changes of mood. Special note for solos go to Palermo (on "The Grand Wazoo") and tenor man Jeff Lyons ('Waka Jawaka").

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AMG 
"Plays The Music of Frank Zappa"
CD Review


Rocker Frank Zappa briefly experimented with big bands in the early 1970s and again during his last tour in 1988; this big band tribute by saxophonist Ed Palermo concentrates primarily on pieces recorded for Zappa's early Mothers of Invention records. So many rock and modern pop tunes don't translate into jazz very well. Zappa's enthusiasm for unusual time signatures and wild chord progressions are relatively new ground for jazz musicians; Palermo dreamed for years of "fleshing out" Zappa's music for big band. The snappy "Peaches En Regalia," features ex-Zappa sideman Mike Keneally capturing the spirit of his late boss' guitar solos, as he also does with his blazing attack on "Aybe Sea." Palermo successfully extends Zappa miniatures like the upbeat "Toads of the Short Forest" and cocktail lounge parody "Twenty Small Cigars." Perhaps his most intriguing arrangement is the imaginative combining of "Who Are the Brain Police?" with "Holiday In Berlin" in a medley showcasing guitarist Mike Stern. Palermo's horn charts flesh out "Waka Jawaka" (originally recorded by Zappa with Sal Marquez overdubbing several trumpets); tenor saxophonist Chris Potter's solo is outstanding, but drummer Ray Marchica's drums are a bit too prominent in the mix. Jam session favorite "King Kong" has always inspired lively solos and tenor saxman Bob Mintzer keeps the tradition alive. This CD should have high appeal to jazz fans familiar with Frank Zappa's recordings, but others should also give it a hearing with open ears. ~ Ken Dryden, All Music Guide

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Ed was part of a Frank Zappa Tribute
in St. Petersburg, Florida

on January 15 & 16, 1999

 


“… On Saturday, January 16, at the Bayfront Center's Mahaffey Theater, the 10-piece rock band Bogus Pomp will join the Florida Orchestra in a program of music by the late musical iconoclast Frank Zappa. … The program will begin with the orchestra playing a half-dozen of Zappa's more celebrated "classical" pieces. Then Outlaw and company will perform a set of Zappa's tricky rock-based music for about 90 minutes. They will be joined on a few songs by Ike Willis, a long-time lead singer and rhythm guitarist in Zappa's bands, and saxophonist Ed Palermo, who leads a big band in New York that plays Zappa music. …"Every orchestra these days is interested in doing things that don1t fit the traditional classical mold," says Jeff Woodruff, the Florida Orchestra1s artistic director. "This was an idea whose time had arrived. "
…During his career, Zappa was known as an anti-establishment smart-ass who shot satiric daggers at everything from hippies to punks to holy rollers. He was also given to out-and-out tomfoolery… Beneath all the shenanigans lay masterful music that ranged from labyrinthine instrumental passages to razor rock, '50s and '60s soul, jazz and other genres. Zappa's symphonic music is marked by shifting rhythms, dizzying counterpoint and a penchant for staccato flights. …"The buzz in the hallway among the musicians is that this upcoming concert is really hard," Wilson said. "But it's new and different. …I don't think there1s much resistance to Zappa as a composer." Conductor Wilkins sees the biggest challenge as "getting the people to play it like it's music, not like a conglomeration of rhythms and awkward harmonies. They need to grab hold of it like a Beethoven symphony and just play it.” …Hemmer, Outlaw and Coash would like to see a Zappa performance become an annual event. In their minds, it would give the orchestra a niche of international prestige beyond the performance of classics. As for the orchestra, they are excited about reaching an audience beyond their usual classical subscribers, an issue that confronts all symphonies going into the next century. "Orchestras have a reputation for being stodgy," Coash says. "This is a chance for us to break out of that image and do something that will appeal to the rock 'n' roll crowd, but it1s not like we're whoring ourselves out and just doing some gig for the rock crowd. This concert has real artistic integrity." A Tribute to Frank Zappa's Music will be held at the Mahaffey Theater at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, featuring Bogus Pomp (with special guests Ike Willis and Ed Palermo) and the Florida Orchestra, featuring resident conductor Thomas Wilkins. …”
– By Eric Snider, “Strange Bedfellows”
 

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