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Music Review: The Ed Palermo Big Band – Eddy Loves Frank

Eddy Loves Frank is the third collection of Frank Zappa songs to be recorded by the Ed Palermo Big Band, and it certainly lives up to the high standards set by the previous installments. Palermo’s commitment to the music of Zappa is no minor affair. Since 1994, his 18-piece big band has devoted the majority of their performances to Zappa’s compositions, and during that time, Palermo has arranged nearly 200 Frank Zappa tunes for them.

Eddy Loves Frank is an understatement, to say the least. What makes Palermo’s arrangements really work though is the sense of fun he brings to the music. While his previous efforts, Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa, and Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance both displayed playful tendencies with the songs, Eddy Loves Frank really swings.

Take the first track, “Night School,” originally released on the 1986 Jazz From Hell album. FZ’s LP was interesting, as it was his first completely solo effort since Hot Rats (1969). Jazz From Hell was recorded exclusively on Frank’s  favorite toy at the time, the Synclavier. One of the difficulties some of us had with that record was the sometime “gimmicky” sound of the instrument. Here, all of that is stripped away immediately, revealing a song with a beautiful melody. Ed’s alto sax solo midway through is a revelation as well.

Palermo never goes for the obvious in choosing tracks to arrange. Of the seven FZ tunes Eddy Loves Frank contains, two hail from the relatively obscure Live At The Roxy And Elsewhere (1974). Both “Echidna’s Arf (Of You,)” and “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing” were concert staples, but were never released as studio recordings. It is fascinating to hear an 18-piece big band recreate these classic mid-Seventies pieces, as they are prime Zappa-fusion.

Another song that has flown under the radar over the years is “Regyptian Strut.” Indeed, the whole album, Sleep Dirt (1979) has never been given its proper due in the Zappa canon, but this is probably the best track on it. The way Palermo has approached it is something of a wonder, and the trombone solo by Joe Fiedler puts everything completely over the top.

Eddy Loves Frank ends with a (somewhat) straight-ahead reading of “America The Beautiful,” which seemed completely out of context to me at first. Then I read Palermo’s liner notes, where he explains his reasons for including it here. There is no way I can argue with his decision, and the version his band plays is really special as well.

Speaking of the liner notes, they are hilarious, and really added to my enjoyment of the record, and what went into making it. Even better is the cover artwork by Nancy Palermo, but you have to see both sides of the CD to get the joke.

Jazz and big-band fans should find a lot to like about Eddy Loves Frank. But the Zappa fan who enjoys a really well-done take on his music will probably take the most pleasure in it. I know I certainly do.

About Greg Barbrick

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    nice review greg. i didn’t even know Palermo had made a second recording. i’ll have to seek that out too.

    200 Zappa compositions…that’s a lot of black dots!

  • Robert Adams

    Great article, but I must correct the writer. “Hot Rats” was not a completely solo album. FZ is not the only musician on the record. “Jazz From Hell” comes close to being solo, except for one instrumental track that features one of his later bands.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Never try and pull the wool over a Zappa fan’s eyes. I meant to change the wording of that sentence from “completly” to “nearly” but forgot to in the end.

    I stand corrected, Robert, thank you.

    –Greg