The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Great Un-American Songbook Vol. III: Run for Your Life – [TrackList follows] – Sky Cat Records, SC201001 54:59 [11/6/20] ****:
Three years ago, New York City-based jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger and bandleader Ed Palermo created a covers project which inverted the Great American Songbook. Instead of focusing on Tin Pan Alley songs and Broadway showtunes, Palermo highlighted material from across the Big Pond. The double album entitled The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1 & 2 spotlighted a roll call of iconic British artists including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, King Crimson, Traffic and Jethro Tull. The 16-piece The Ed Palermo Big Band is back with the 14-track, 55-minute excursion The Great Un-American Songbook Volume 3: Run for Your Life.
The record maintains an English-inclined rambunctiousness and verve. Palermo’s arrangements of The Beatles, The Hollies, Procol Harum, Traffic, The Moody Blues and more are blended with compositions by Palermo’s idol, Frank Zappa. That is not a surprise, since Palermo has issued several Zappa-filled projects. What’s remarkable is how exceptionally Palermo adapts Zappa’s music to meld seamlessly with tunes from English bands and artists. There is one difference between Palermo’s previous Great Un-American Songbook album and this one. There is no underlying conceptual narrative. Volumes 1 & 2 had a Kinks-esque storyline about a fictional cousin of a famous Beatles drummer, who bemoans his lack of groupies, money and fame. Volume 3: Run for Your Life concentrates on the music.
Palermo has a talent as a Duke Ellington-type arranger. His gift is being able to both respect and transmute the original songs, take them apart and restructure them in new, innovative and fun ways. A case in point is the opening cut, George Harrison’s “Within You Without You.” An Indian drone raga intro solo by Bruce McDaniel on electric sitar veers into a jaunty samba groove. The arrangement also has an extended quote from The Hollies 1966 hit, “Stop Stop Stop,” which somehow is placed flawlessly on the Brazilian beat.
Palermo follows with more Beatles. First is “Run for Your Life,” from 1965’s Rubber Soul LP. It’s here where Palermo begins to slip in musical asides, (call them audio ‘Easter Eggs’ akin to the videos which were sometimes hidden on some older DVDs). For example, Ben Kono’s tenor solo employs chord changes from Cedar Walton’s jazz standard “Ugetsu” (the title track from a 1963 Walton LP). If a listener is paying close attention, try to catch the eight bars borrowed from “G Spot Tornado,” from Zappa’s 1986 album Jazz from Hell. Palermo crafts a medley of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Zappa’s “Shove It Right In,” from Zappa’s 1971 200 Motels soundtrack. This five-minute extravaganza showcases violinist Katie Jacoby. Hearing her navigate the arrangement, a person can understand why she also tours with The Who. There’s more musical amusement. Jacoby’s solo cites “Darkness” by The Police (see 1981’s Ghost in the Machine), and then the piece zigzags through zesty portions from Traffic’s “Glad,” – from 1970’s John Barleycorn Must Die – The Zombies’ 1964 debut “She’s Not There” and Zappa’s “Dog Breath” (from the Mothers of Invention 1969 record, Uncle Meat). These disparate elements shouldn’t coalesce, but the medley progresses and evolves like finely fashioned origami. Other Beatles tracks have similar structures. “Come Together” encompasses more ‘Easter Egg’s, incorporating a dash of The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” a melodic dollop from Zappa’s “Chunga’s Revenge” and another tidbit from “G Spot Tornado.”
Run for Your Life concludes with prog-rock choices which feature McDaniel on vocals. Jethro Tull’s “Nothing Is Easy” – from the group’s 1969 sophomore LP Stand Up – has Jacoby’s thrashing violin and obligatory Zappa references to “Willie the Pimp” and “I Am the Slime.” McDaniel’s voice is stunning on two back-to-back Procol Harum numbers, the sailor’s tale “A Salty Dog” and the anthemic “Shine on Brightly.” The ending tracks bring it all to a witty and wonderfully arranged windup with The Moody Blues definitive “Nights in White Satin.” McDaniel’s vocals are interspersed with rhythmic touches from The Allman Brothers “Whipping Post.” As a finale, Mike James’ recitation of The Moody Blues’ “Late Lament” contains his humorous remarks on the arty and somewhat contrived text. Run for Your Life is another Palermo masterpiece. It displays his greatness as arranger and the enduring quality of British pop and rock music. What’s next for Palermo? His subsequent venture will reportedly be an Edgar Winter tribute. Can’t wait to hear what Palermo does with Winter’s “Frankenstein.”
(Ed Palermo – executive producer, leader, conductor, arranger; Cliff Lyons – alto saxophone, clarinet; Phil Chester – alto and soprano saxophone, flute, piccolo; Bill Straub – tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ben Kono – tenor saxophone, flute; Barbara Cifelli – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, and Eb mutant clarinet; Ronnie Buttacavoli – lead trumpet; John Bailey – trumpet; Charley Gordon – lead trombone; Mike Boschen – trombone; Matt Ingman – bass trombone, tuba; Bob Quaranta – piano; Ted Kooshian – electric keyboards; Paul Adamy – electric bass; Ray Marchica – drums; Katie Jacoby – violin; Bruce McDaniel – producer, arranger (track 9, and intro to track 14), guitar, electric sitar, vocals (tracks 11-14), mixing, mastering, overdubs, and additional recording; Mike James – recitation, track 14))
Medley: Within You Without You (Part 1)/Stop Stop Stop
Run for Your Life
Medley: Strawberry Fields Forever/Shove It Right In
And Your Bird Can Sing
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Within You Without You (Part 2)
Medley: Come Together/Chunga’s Revenge
Something in the Air
Medley: Let’s Move to Cleveland/Fixing a Hole
Nothing Is Easy
A Salty Dog
Shine on Brightly
Nights in White Satin/Moggio
For more information about Ed Palermo’s Big Band, please visit the website!