The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren – Cuneiform

There’s a new ‘super’ hero in town…Frank? Todd? No, its Zodd!

The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren [TrackList and Performers follows] – Cuneiform, Rune 440 74:10 [10/6/17] *****:

How would someone combine Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa’s music? Or, another question, why? When it comes to arranger and band leader Ed Palermo, the question is: what took so long? Palermo has been redoing Zappa’s music with the Ed Palermo Big Band since Zappa passed away in 1993, and has always found new and interesting approaches to Zappa. This time, the Ed Palermo Big Band ingeniously melds Rundgren’s pop material with Zappa’s unique compositions. In the process, Palermo also morphs the two personalities into one individual, using the guise of Zodd Zundgren, a middle-aged, overweight hero who’d rather walk dogs than fight supervillains.

Palermo states, “Todd Rundgren holds a very special place in my heart. For most of my high school days my favorite musicians were Zappa and Todd Rundgren.” As a teen, Palermo felt connected to Rundgren’s songs about self-pity, unrequited romance and break-ups. Zappa’s snarky lyrics also fed into the young Palermo’s angst-tinted adolescence. It was natural that Palermo would eventually merge the two artists onto one album. Palermo doesn’t mashup the music of both musicians. Rather, the CD mostly alternates between Rundgren and Zappa, although there are often no breaks from track to track, thus creating a suite-like organization akin to what Zappa and Rundgren frequently concocted. Palermo commences with a soaring version of Zappa’s jazz-rock piece, “Peaches en Regalia,” from Zappa’s 1969 LP, Hot Rats. Alto saxophonist Cliff Lyons is the featured soloist during “Peaches en Regalia.” That’s followed by an optimistic and instrumental translation of Rundgren’s “Influenza,” (from Rundgren’s 1982 LP, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect) which dispenses with Rundgren’s lyrics and synths. Palermo’s arrangement favors various horns, percolating percussion and Katie Jacoby’s violin, which recalls Zappa alum Jean-Luc Ponty.

Sometimes Zappa and Rundgren’s songs are condensed to fit into Palermo’s overall musical vision. For example, listeners only get 90 seconds of Rundgren’s zippy pop tune, “Yer Fast,” before Palermo switches to an affectionate spin through Zappa’s “Absolutely Free.” Rundgren’s “Breathless” (from his 1972 double album, Something/Anything?), is turned into two shorter segments which act as intervals between other cuts. Zappa’s jazz-fusion work “Big Swifty” (from 1972’s Waka/Jawaka) is summarized as an intro into a swinging rendition of Rundgren’s obscure blues number, “Kiddie Boy,” (which dates to Rundgren’s days in the Beatles-like Nazz).  “Big Swifty” shows up later as a coda to Rundgren’s tender ballad, “Wailing Wall,” which Palermo does as an instrumental fronted by Bill Straub’s meditative tenor sax. Producer Bruce McDaniel handles the vocals during “Kiddie Boy” while Palermo showcases his stinging guitar prowess. McDaniel also sings on Rundgren’s top-ten ballad hit, “Hello It’s Me,” although Palermo’s arrangement is based on Rundgren’s original version from the 1968 LP, Nazz, not the better-known single from Something/Anything? McDaniel is also the star of Zappa’s odd-metered “Echidna’s Arf (Of You).” Palermo’s 2009 adaptation from his album, Eddy Loves Frank, had horns. Here, McDaniel’s overlaid and multitiered vocalizing replaces the horns via multitracking, a trick which echoes Rundgren’s similar production on his 1985 album, A Cappella, which utilized vocal overdubbing to replicate instruments such as drums, guitar, keys and more. Another vocal highlight is Zappa’s ode to growing dental floss, “Montana,” which includes guest singer Napoleon Murphy Brock, who performed on several Zappa tours and studio projects. Brock has also guested on previous Palermo releases. Brock’s other contributions include Rundgren’s brief, Gilbert and Sullivan parody, “Emperor of the Highway” and a lengthy reading of Zappa’s idiosyncratic and lyrically puzzling “Florentine Pogen.” Brock also sang this on Zappa’s 1975 Mothers of Invention album, One Size Fits All. “Florentine Pogen” is a tour de force and an apex of the CD’s second half. Another audacious selection is Palermo’s arrangement of Rundgren’s “Broke Down and Busted,” a bluesy, psychedelic cut from Rundgren’s 1970 solo debut, Runt. In just five minutes, Palermo manages to toss in smidgeons of Rundgren’s “Boat on the Charles,” Ramsey Lewis’ “The ‘In’ Crowd,” Zappa’s “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” and apparently a trace of Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic.” There’s also a witty ‘hidden’ track which closes the CD, where Palermo puts new lyrics to a Rundgren song: listeners should hear the CD to find out which one (no reason to spoil the surprise). Alongside the wonderfully entertaining and amazing music, The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren also comes with a reference-gushing comic strip which provides a detailed look at the life of the Zodd Zundgren character. Not to be missed.

With each venture, Palermo seems to raise the bar and reveal different ways to pay homage to Zappa and Palermo’s other musical heroes. Early in 2017 Palermo unleashed his tribute to British rock and pop, The Great Un-American Songbook, Vols. 1 & 2. Later in 2017 it was The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren. What’s next? Palermo has already recorded dozens of tracks for The Great Un-American Songbook, Vols. 3 & 4 and is planning an upcoming album which concentrates on another Palermo musical icon, Edgar Winter.

The Solemn Z-Men Credo
Peaches En Regalia
Yer Fast
Absolutely Free
Breathless (Part 1)
Big Swifty
Kiddie Boy
Emperor of the Highway
You Are What You Is
Echidna’s Arf (Of You)
Hello It’s Me
Big Swifty Coda
Wailing Wall
Florentine Pogen
Marqueson’s Chicken
Song of the Viking
Janet’s Big Dance Number
Broke Down and Busted
Breathless (Part 2)
Zoot Allures
Yer Fast (Reprise)

—Doug Simpson

Performing Artists:
Ed Palermo – executive producer, arranger (except tracks 7, 12, 14), guitar (track 8, 18), alto saxophone (track 9);

Reeds: Cliff Lyons (alto saxophone, track 2), Phil Chester, Bill Straub (tenor saxophone, track 15), Ben Kono (tenor saxophone, track 20), Barbara Cifelli;

Trumpets: Ronnie Buttacavoli, John Bailey (solo on track 21), Steve Jankowski;

Trombone: Charley Gordon (solo on track 16), Mike Boschen, Matt Ingman;

Keys: Bob Quaranta – piano; Ted Kooshian – synthesizer, sampler, organ (track 16);

Paul Adamy – bass;

Ray Marchica – drums;

Katie Jacoby – electric and acoustic violin, vocals;

Bruce McDaniel – guitar, vocals, producer, arranger (tracks 7, 12, 14);

Pierre Piscatelli – arranger (track 17); Napoleon Murphy Brock – vocals (tracks 9-10, 16)

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