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The Ed Palermo Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes I & II
This is big band jazz, with a smile and a grab bag of virtuosic fun. The Ed Palermo Big Band are already well established for taking work by the likes of Frank Zappa and interweaving it with bespoke compositions and crafted jazzy, big band re-imaginings. Things are different here however, The Great Un-American Songbook, (almost but not quite) taking the British invasion and Americanising it in the least reverential manner possible... Well, maybe not the least possible, because the passion for the music comes through loud and proud even as songs by The Beatles, King Crimson, Cream, Traffic, Arthur Brown, and many more, are twisted and tangled to within a big bold inch of their lives.
Sample the violin led Jeff Beck number, "Definitely Maybe", to feel the way the amalgamations are going down here, as some tracks are given a reverential reworking and others are turned on their heads – as you are on yours. Unafraid to twist their sharp knife into lesser known songs from some mighty canons, "We Love You" from The Rolling Stones, or "Wreck Of The Hesperus" from Procul Harem become unexpected highlights, the latter sprinkled with guitarist Bruce McDaniel's keen, but not overly, vocals, which are a sporadic feature throughout.
Standing up (un)surprisingly well to this new found scrutiny are the King Crimson pair of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two" and "21st Century Schizoid Man" - the latter especially flitting into and out of the original themes as the ever present improvisations take things in unexpected directions. Something that can also be said as the British invasion 'theme' is expanded upon to somehow include an excellent stab at Miles Davis' "Nardis" and Radiohead's "The Tourist", although both are good inclusions. However it's the least British and possibly most anti-American 'mash-up' (as I believe the cool cats down the discotheques are calling them these days) of "America", from A West Side Story and Green Day's "American Idiot", which comes off as KELP (that's Kansas, Emerson, Lake & Palmer by the way) and explodes loudest; the 'idiot America' lyrics wrapped round the famous original score, although it's The Move's version that's sited as inspiration here.
Where things falter, for me anyway – and I'm not really famed for laughing along with needless humorous asides on albums, so draw your own conclusions – are the little skits and sketches intended to make you chuckle away as we segue from track to track. Introducing bitter faux-English characters like Mick Starkey (Ringo's less famous cousin, bemoaning his lack of groupies), Pete Best (who's oh so cheerful about the band he used to be in) or Edvard Loog Wanker III (it's pronounced Vaaaaaaaaankeeeeeeeer…), it's all intentionally silly and to me, rather needless on an album that engages, entertains and amuses on its own terms. Although hearing singer Mike James question the choice of "Her Majesty" as The Beatles track selected, while he is mid-croon, manages to raise a smile every time it grooves into view.
Spread over two discs and with a third volume to come, Ed Palermo and his Big Band are clearly having a ball as they reveal The Great Un-American Songbook. You will too, even if some of the humour makes a curmudgeon like me sigh...
1. Good Morning, Good Morning (The Beatles)
2. Open Up Said the World at the Door (The Move)
3. We Love You (The Rolling Stones)
4. Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles)
5. Definitely Maybe (Jeff Beck)
6. As You Said (Cream)
7. Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two (King Crimson)
8. 21st Century Schizoid Man (King Crimson)
9. Send Your Son to Die (Blodwyn Pig)
10. Edward, The Mad Shirt Grinder (Nicky Hopkins w/ Quicksilver Messenger Service)
11. America/American Idiot (The Nice, Green Day)
12. Beggar's Farm (Jethro Tull)
13. Bitches Crystal (Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
14. Wreck of the Hesperus (Procol Harum)
15. Diamond Dust (Jeff Beck)
16. The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (Traffic)
17. Fire (Arthur Brown)
18. The Tourist (Radiohead)
19. Don't Bother Me (The Beatles) / Nardis (Miles Davis) / Don't Bother Me (reprise)
20. I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles)
21. Good Night (The Beatles)
Added: June 4th 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Great Un-American Songbook @ Cuneiform Rec
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