Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Ed Palermo Big Band - The Great Un-American Songbook, Volumes I & II (Cuneiform, 2017)

This is an interesting and effervescent big band album with saxophonist and composer Ed Palermo's talented jazz orchestra moving through a very lengthy selection of arrangements of British progressive rock songs from the the nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies. These years were formative ones for that genre as well as progressive big bands led by the likes of Don Ellis. Palermo is best known for interpreting the compositions of Frank Zappa, and he takes that experience and brings it to the songs he grew up to make an album makes for a loving if exhausting double album. His band members are highly talented musicians which play the charts with enthusiasm and this makes for music which is accessible for both jazz and rock fans. Beginning, as it always seems to, with The Beatles, the band bounces through "Good Morning, Good Morning" and a violin tinged version of "Eleanor Rigby." There are short sections of jokey banter between some of the tracks like the trippy and swirling take on The Rolling Stones's "We Love You." The more complex music of King Crimson is just the ticket for this group, and their versions of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One" features nervous percussion and violin while "21st Century Schizoid Man" adds vocals for an epic and imposing feel. Disc two goes off topic briefly, channeling The Nice's controversial organ drenched reading of Leonard Bernstein's "America" and then tacking on a brief snarky cover of Green Day's "American Idiot." They follow these performances with a nice spacey interlude of "Diamond Dust" and Traffic's "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys." The organ drenched madness of Arthur Brown's "Fire" gets things moving again before the group returns to where it all started with a trio of Beatles songs to finish the album. This may be an exercise in nostalgia, but the arrangements and the high quality of the ensemble playing and soloists keep the music fresh and interesting. The Great Un-American Songbook, Volumes I & II -

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