Title - 'The Great Un-American Songbook: Vols I & II'
Artist - The Ed Palermo Big Band
For those not in the know, which included me, The Ed Palermo Big Band is a big band that has been active for over thirty years, playing the compositions and arrangements of their leader, saxophonist Ed Palermo. In fact, the band is well known for Palermo's arrangements of the music of Frank Zappa, amongst others of that ilk.
Ed Palermo started playing the alto saxophone and the guitar in high school because, unlike most all of us, he already knew he wanted to be a musician. Early influences that pushed him in that direction were the Beatles and the Mothers of Invention, but Palermo first discovered a love for the music of Edgar Winter while in high school.
This inspired him to emulate musicians such as Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, and Charlie Parker. In college he switched from alto saxophone to tenor saxophone due to influences from John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, and David Liebman. After graduating college, Palermo moved to New York in order to become a jazz tenor saxophonist.
At this point, an album called Impact by Charles Tolliver inspired him to try his hand at arranging. Palermo looked to his friend Dave LaLama, already an arranger, for advice and he began to compose and arrange music. Soon he began playing with Tito Puente, and during this time, assembled a group which later expanded into the big band bearing his name.
After Frank Zappa's death in 1993, Palermo decided to play a show of all Frank Zappa music. Before the show, Palermo posted a notice on an internet bulletin board. The turnout to the show was the largest that the Ed Palermo Big Band had had to date.
Following on from that, and recording their first Zappa album, and playing shows at The Iridium in New York City (for 10 years), this 18-piece big band steer away from Zappa for once and bring forth some tracks that will appease the jazz heads and Brit rock lovers in the world alike.
Inspired big-band arrangements of the Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby,' '21st Century Schizoid Man,' 'The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,' the Crazy World of Arthur Brown's 'Fire,' the Beatles' 'Don't Bother Me,' Radiohead's 'The Tourist,' Miles Davis's 'Nardis', and so much more (from Jethro Tull to Green Day), released via Cuneiform Records, The Great Un-American Songbook, Volumes I & II [Explicit] is one extraordinary compilation of music.
This highly prolific 2CD set opens with the Beatles' 'Good Morning, Good Morning' (which opens with someone shooting a bleating goat!) and never lets up the stream of quality renditions, all orchestrated perfectly, one after the other. The fun ragtime bounce of The Move's 'Open Up Said the World at the Door' (written by ELO's Jeff Lynne) is next and that's backed by the Rolling Stones' piano beauty 'We Love You', a simply stunning 'Eleanor Rigby' (which, done in their own way, doesn't even sound like the original, trust me) and then Jeff Beck's 'Definitely Maybe.'
The delicate chimes of Cream's 'As You Said' is next, and that's backed by the prog rock orchestrated, Zapperish dips and swerves of King Crimson's powerful ballad 'Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2.' Carrying on the Crimson tide of music, their frenetic '21st Century Schizoid Man' is tackled next, with a saxophone taking center stage here just delightfully. A deeper sax is the back beat to Blodwyn Pig's infamous 'Send Your Son to Die', before the first disc rounds out with the tremendously lush and yet vibrant 'Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder' from Nicky Hopkins w/ Quicksilver Messenger Service. At over ten minutes long it is easily the longest of the 21 tracks contained on this epic double CD set.
The second disc begins with 'America/American Idiot' (a nice combination of The Nice first followed by a seamless transition into Green Day's massive chart hit. Most all of these tracks don't have vocals, but Jethro Tull's 'Beggar's Farm' does and wow, what a treat it is to hear the song sung in this new manner. 'Bitches Crystal' from Emerson, Lake and Palmer is next, but it's the brilliant 'Wreck of the Hesperus' (Procol Harum) that takes the musical biscuit for me here. It's one of the best tracks, vocal, and as tuneful now as it ever was. A sheer delight to hear like this from this band.
Next up is the sedate 'Diamond Dust' (Jeff Beck) and that's backed by the gentle pacing of 'The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys' from Traffic. Yet another quite brilliant rendition, The Ed Palermo Big Band make it truly their own here. 'Fire' from Arthur Brown is done well enough, but doesn't stray too far from the original, save for some swirly Zappa-like piano/organ playing, before an amazing cover of the Radiohead track, 'The Tourist.'
Seemingly not done with the song, 'Don't Bother Me/Nardis/Don't Bother Me (Reprise)' are all brought together (the Beatles/Miles Davis) for seven minutes, before this second CD is brought to a close with a pair of Beatles tracks: the danceable fun jig of 'I Wanna Be Your Man' and then the quietly peaceful, slumber-like ode 'Good Night.'