While pundits and experts debate whether the United States of America has entered an age of decline as a world power, New York saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader and inveterate troublemaker Ed Palermo makes an incontrovertible case for un-American ascendance. With The Great Un-American Songbook Volume 3: Run for your Life, slated for release on guitarist/vocalist Bruce McDaniel’s Sky Cat label on November 6, 2020, he turns his attention to the music of the nation’s former colonial overlords. Focusing on material by Lennon and McCartney (and several acts that followed in The Beatles’ footsteps), one of jazz’s finest working big bands delivers another batch of reverently irreverent arrangements with enviable precision and improvisational aplomb.
Best known for his celebrated recordings and performances interpreting the ingenious compositions of Frank Zappa, Palermo has documented his Zappaphilia on numerous Cuneiform Records albums such as 2006’s Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance and 2009’s Eddy Loves Frank. But he’s always cast a wide musical net. On the uproarious 2017 double album The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1 & 2, Palermo tackled an expansive roster of songs by a wide array of legendary British bands, including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, King Crimson, Traffic, and Jethro Tull.
Featuring largely the same stellar cast of players, the 16-piece Ed Palermo Big Band takes another trip to swinging London on The Great Un-American Songbook Volume 3: Run for Your Life. In many ways, Palermo is revisiting the music of his youth by transforming it via the craft, artistry and left-field imagination that have made him a singular figure in the world of jazz. “I grew up with this music, and like the Zappa stuff there’s a huge element of nostalgia for me,” he says. “But with the skills that I attained through all these years arranging all different types of music I revisit songs that I still love, but interpreting them my way.”
On his most recent album, A Lousy Day In Harlem (Sky Cat 2019), Palermo unleashed his talent-laden ensemble on a gorgeous array of music by Ellington, Monk, Coltrane, Egberto Gismonte, as well as his own finely wrought originals. His love of the jazz idiom is just as apparent on The Great Un-American Songbook v.3, which extends into the 21st century the time honored jazz practice of reinventing pop tunes. An arranger with an Ellingtonian palette, he honors and transforms the source material by deconstructing songs and rebuilding them as something wondrous and new.
Palermo’s way can best be described as medley virtuosity, as he turns each piece into a Rubik’s Cube maze of musical connections. Kicking off with “Within You Without You,” Palermo nods at George Harrison’s Indian raga fascination with McDaniel’s electric sitar drone before crossing the globe and adding a galloping samba groove. An extended quote from the 1966 hit by the Hollies, “Stop Stop Stop” lays perfectly on the Brazilian beat. He creates an even thicker mélange on “Run for Your Life,” which features a riveting Ben Kono tenor solo based on the chord changes of Cedar Walton’s jazz standard “Ugetsu” (aka “Fantasy in D”). And don’t miss the eight bars lifted from Zappa’s “G Spot Tornado.”
“Once the wheels start churning, that’s when I’m in my happy place,” Palermo says about his intricate mashup arrangements. “There’s just nothing like the discovery, the eureka! moment of realizing that elements of songs can fit together. I love finding a way to put things together when on paper it looks like the songs wouldn’t work.”
He turns “Strawberry Fields Forever” into a thrilling vehicle for violinist Katie Jacoby, who navigates a slippery slalom from the beloved Beatles hit into “Shove It Right In” (“a typical Zappa love song,” Palermo says) from the album 200 Motels. Listening to her shred, it should come as no surprise to hear that Jacoby also tours with The Who. After her solo references “Darkness” by The Police, the piece careens through fragrant fragments of “Glad” by Traffic, “She’s Not There” by The Zombies, and Zappa’s “Dog Breath.” On paper, it sounds like a dog’s breakfast, but in the hands of these ace players the piece unfolds like it was conceived as a single entity. It’s hard to overstate the power and finesse exhibited by the band’s longtime rhythm section with pianist Bob Quaranta, electric bassist Paul Adamy, drummer Ray Marchica, and Ted Kooshian on keyboards. In the studio the band is documenting arrangements that they’ve finely honed on the bandstand
“Before the Covid 19 pandemic we had two regularly gigs, playing Iridium every month and The Falcon every other month,” Palermo notes. “I started arranging these songs with the same fervor as the Zappa tunes, and we’ve been performing them live for at least a year before the recording. I’m very mindful that I want it to be a work of art in itself. We do the segues and medleys live. Part of the fun is that it all fits like a jigsaw puzzle.”
No piece on the album combines more unlikely elements than “Come Together,” an outrageous mashup that includes a flashing quote from “Light My Fire” and a few lines of melody from Zappa’s “Chunga’s Revenge” delivered with admirably dexterity on tuba by Matt Ingman. There’s another gust of “G Spot Tornado” and a scorching solo by Jacoby before the segue into Thunderclap Newman’s chart-topping “Something In the Air” as reimagined by Scott Joplin. Quaranta’s ragtime interlude turns into a surreal mashup of Zappa’s “Let’s Move to Cleveland” and “Fixin’ A Hole,” with the 6/8 groove of the former somehow meshing with the 4/4 of the Fab Four. The medley concludes with a headlong plunge into the Beatles fellow British Invaders with Jethro Tull’s “Nothing Is Easy” a pummeling feature for Jacoby and vocalist McDaniel. The arrangement includes the requisite Zappa quotes, with references to “Willie the Pimp” and “I Am the Slime.”
McDaniel takes over the concluding run, with a gorgeous Procol Harum twofer, crooning the nautical “A Salty Dog” and the anthem “Shine On Brightly.” Palermo ends the session with The Moody Blues classic “Nights In White Satin,” a piece that also features McDaniel’s stellar vocals and rhythmic traces of the Allman Brothers “Whipping Post.” No album EPBB album would be complete without a recitation by Mike James, whose bemused recitation of the Moody Blues’ “Late Lament” sends listeners out into the night, wondering, what the hell? In other words, it’s another Palermo tour de force, a sneak attack revealing the true, enduring greatness of the Un-American Songbook.
In many ways, Palermo’s career is a case study in getting the last laugh. Born in Ocean City, New Jersey on June 14, 1954, he grew up in the cultural orbit of Philadelphia, which was about an hour drive away. He started playing clarinet in elementary school, and soon turned to the alto saxophone. He also took up the guitar, and credits his teenage obsession with Zappa to opening his ears to post-bop harmonies and improvisation.
Palermo caught the jazz bug while attending DePaul University, and took to the alto sax with renewed diligence inspired by Phil Woods, Cannonball Adderley, and Edgar Winter (the subject of an upcoming Ed Palermo Big Band project). Before graduation he was leading his own band and making a good living as a studio player recording commercial jingles. But like so many jazz musicians, he answered New York City’s siren call, moving to Manhattan in 1977. After a year of playing jam sessions and scuffling Palermo landed a coveted gig with Tito Puente, a four-year stint that immersed him in Afro-Cuban music.
An encounter with trumpeter Woody Shaw’s septet at the Village Vanguard in the late 1970s stoked his interest in writing and arranging for multiple horns, and by the end of the decade he had launched a nine-piece rehearsal band with five horns. Between Don Sebesky’s well-regarded book The Contemporary Arranger and advice from Dave Lalama and Tim Ouimette, “I got a lot of my questions answered and I’ll love them forever,” Palermo says. “Then the real education was trial and error. I lived in a little apartment with no TV or furniture. All I had was a card table, and once a week I’d rehearse my nonet, then listen to the cassette of the rehearsal and make all the changes.”
Palermo made his recording debut in 1982, in an impressive session featuring heavyweights such as David Sanborn, Edgar Winter and Randy Brecker. As a consummate studio cat and sideman, he toured and recorded with an array of stars, including Aretha Franklin, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, Lou Rawls, Melba Moore, The Spinners, and many others. As an arranger, he’s written charts for The Tonight Show Band, Maurice Hines, Eddie Fischer, and Melissa Walker. Employed frequently by bass star Christian McBride on a disparate array of projects, Palermo has written arrangements for a James Brown concert at the Hollywood Bowl, a Frank Sinatra tribute featuring Kurt Elling, Seth McFarland, and John Pizzarelli, and a 20-minute medley of Wayne Shorter tunes for the New Jersey Ballet.
Palermo had been leading his big band for more than a decade before the Zappa concept started coming together. Inspired by electric guitar master Mike Keneally, who performed with Zappa on some of his final concerts before the composer’s death in 1993, Palermo decided to arrange a program of a dozen Zappa tunes. When the time came for Palermo to debut the material at one of his band’s regular gigs at the Bitter End in early 1994, a sold-out crowd witnessed the occasion. “The Internet was just becoming powerful, and word really got around,” Palermo says. “We were used to playing for small audiences, and the place was packed. There were people who had driven down from Canada, and up from West Virginia who didn’t have a clue who I was, but they wanted to hear Zappa’s music. It was an amazing night.”
The Ed Palermo Big Band earned international attention with its 1997 debut The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays Frank Zappa on Astor Place Records. With Palermo’s brilliant arrangements and soloists such as Bob Mintzer, Chris Potter, Dave Samuels, Mike Stern, and Mike Keneally, the album made an undisputable case for the Zappa jazz concept. While Palermo has written more than 300 Zappa charts, he’s anything but a one-trick pony. Recent releases like 2014’s Oh No! Not Jazz!! and 2016’s One Child Left Behind, both released on Cuneiform, featured a bountiful selection of his original compositions and material by composers not named Frank Zappa.
Nothing demonstrates the ensemble’s ongoing vitality better than the stellar cast of players, with longtime collaborators such as violinist Katie Jacoby, baritone saxophonist Barbara Cifelli, drummer Ray Marchica, and keyboardist Ted Kooshian. Many of these top-shelf musicians have been in the band for more than a decade, and they bring wide-ranging experience, expert musicianship and emotional intensity to Palermo’s music. From the first note of The Great Un-American Songbook Vol. 3: Run For Your Life, the Ed Palermo Big Band manifests greatness in a truly Un-American musical cause.
released November 6, 2020
THE ED PALERMO BIG BAND
ED PALERMO – arranger, conductor
CLIFF LYONS - alto sax, clarinet
PHIL CHESTER - alto sax, soprano sax, flute, piccolo
BILL STRAUB - tenor sax, clarinet
BEN KONO - tenor sax, flute
BARBARA CIFELLI - baritone sax, 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 – guitar, electric sitar, vocals
WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU (PART 1) (George Harrison) / STOP STOP STOP (Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Graham Nash)
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (Lennon and McCartney)
STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER (Lennon and McCartney) / SHOVE IT RIGHT IN (Frank Zappa)
GLAD (Steve Winwood)
AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING (Lennon and McCartney)
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE! (Lennon and McCartney)
WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU (PART 2) (George Harrison)
COME TOGETHER (Lennon and McCartney) / CHUNGA'S REVENGE (Frank Zappa)
SOMETHING IN THE AIR (Speedy Keen)
LET’S MOVE TO CLEVELAND (Frank Zappa) / FIXING A HOLE (Lennon and McCartney)
NOTHING IS EASY (Ian Anderson)
A SALTY DOG (Gary Brooker and Keith Reid)
SHINE ON BRIGHTLY (Gary Brooker and Keith Reid)
NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN (Justin Hayward) / MOGGIO (Frank Zappa)
WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU (PART 1) Ted Kooshian, keyboard; Ben Kono, tenor sax
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE John Bailey, trumpet
STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER Katie Jacoby, violin
GLAD Bill Straub, tenor sax; Bob Quaranta, piano
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE Phil Chester, soprano sax; John Bailey, trumpet
COME TOGETHER Katie Jacoby, violin
SOMETHING IN THE AIR Bob Quaranta, piano
LET’S MOVE TO CLEVELAND/FIXING A HOLE Charley Gordon, trombone; Katie Jacoby, violin
NOTHING IS EASY Katie Jacoby, violin; Ray Marchica, drums; Bruce McDaniel, vocals
A SALTY DOG Bruce McDaniel, vocals
SHINE ON BRIGHTLY Bruce McDaniel, vocals
NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN Ted Kooshian, keyboard; Bruce McDaniel, vocals
All arrangements by Ed Palermo except,
“Something in the Air” and the introduction of “Nights in White Satin” by Bruce McDaniel.
Bruce also fixed Ed’s note mistakes in “And Your Bird Can Sing”.
Producer: Bruce McDaniel
Executive Producer: Ed Palermo
All tracks recorded at Peaceful Waters Music, Pound Ridge, NY (May 2019 - March 2020).
Wayne Warnecke: Engineer
Except, “A Salty Dog” recorded at Jankland Recording, Wall Township, NJ (May 2019).
Steve Jankowski: Engineer
Mixing, mastering, overdubs, and additional recording by Bruce McDaniel at Rock Ridge Recording,
New Orleans, LA.
CD art & design: Hugh Brennan
Illustrations: Matthew Brennan
Ray Marchica uses Zildjian cymbals, Pearl Drums, Remo Drumheads, and
Vic Firth drumsticks exclusively.
Paul Adamy uses DR Strings and Wayne Jones AUDIO exclusively.
Ronnie Buttacavoli plays a Cannonball "Stone Series” 725 black nickel-plated trumpet and
a custom mouthpiece by Greg Black Mouthpieces exclusively.
Barbara Cifelli uses D'Addario reed products exclusively.
Cliff Lyons endorses AMT microphones exclusively.
Ed Palermo uses saxophone reeds soaked in hydroxychloroquine exclusively.
DEDICATION AND THANKS
This album is dedicated to the late Geoff Emerick, who, as an engineer and producer, was responsible for the original versions of much of the music on this very cd. Geoff came to hear my band play at Iridium as Cliff Lyons' guest. He was SO talkative and friendly and even bought SIX CDs of mine! That brought the grand total sold that night to six. He even gave me a detailed description of Sir Paul teaching George the guitar part to “And Your Bird Can Sing”. He also invited Bruce to an LA studio to help with the production of this very CD you hold in your hands, and gleefully blasted our version of “Shine on Brightly” through his speakers! Geoff, it was an absolute honor to meet you.
I’d like to thank Michael Bourne, Gary Walker, John Newcott, and the entire WBGO staff; Bill O’Connell at WDCB in Chicago; Steve, Joyce, Javier and the rest of the crew at Cuneiform; Susan, Molly, Sally, Nancy (always in my heart), Nick, Dave, Bowl, Kathy, Conrad, Dustin, John, Judy, Ryan, Kevin (The Palermo Posse); Bruce McDaniel for everything you do for me and this band; Tony and Julie Falco at the Falcon; Grace Blake and Ron Sturm and everybody at Iridium; Andre Cholmendeley, Frank Malfitano, Al Wolkoff, Tom Raetz, Hugh Brennan, Matthew Brennan, Melissa Walker, Christian McBride, Yukiko Konishi, Bert and Carina Saraco, Jazz House Kids, Hoff/Barthelson Music School and all of the brave souls at the front lines of combating this deadly Coronavirus which include Tess and Kate Brennan.
"The present-day wanker refuses to die . . . SON OF A BITCH!!"
Edvard Loog Wanker III (1954 - 2020)
supported by 32 fans who also own “The Great Un-American Songbook Vol. III: Run for Your Life”
Ha, the Ed Palermo Big Band has long been on my radar, but for whatever reason I never pressed the Buy- button. This weekend's special Cuneiform offer took care of that, thanks a lot! :-)
I have long been interested in their Zappa renditions, but here things get a little more diverse: Next to Zappa we're treated with Neil Young, Los Lobos and Giorgio Moroder in the typical Palermo big band sound. Wonderful :-) Carsten Pieper
supported by 31 fans who also own “The Great Un-American Songbook Vol. III: Run for Your Life”
Highly entertaining big band versions of smaller and bigger hits mostly from the British stuff from the 60s to 70s. Even if Mr Palermo doesn't have his big band playing Zappa compositions this time, the zappaesque approach is quite tangible: All those little quotations in between or to couple the Fab Four with Miles Davis. Or Bernstein via The Nice with Green Day!
Great playing, great arrangements! And to say it again, yes, humour does belong in music! Carsten Pieper