Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Rudy Lu
I can’t remember the last time that a concert left me so breathless. The 17-piece Ed Palermo Big Band rolled into Proctors’ GE Theatre in Schenectady last Friday night, making their Nippertown debut as the third and final concert of 2014 Party Horns NYC series. And what a party it was. They kicked off the night with sections of “Call Any Vegetable” and “Zomby Woof” (which was the connective tissue that ran through the entire concert) before stomping into “Willie the Pimp.”
And on and on they went, dashing through a sprawling 40-minute suite, taking a huge batch of the late great Frank Zappa’s already impossibly complex instrumental songs and melding them into a magnificent, mountainous medley. All without pausing to take a breath. Under the watch of the indefatigable Palermo and his hyper, two-fisted conducting, the band sliced and diced Zappa’s catalog into delirium, cutting and pasting Mothers of Invention gems into a seamless string of sizzling shards that seemed almost beyond comprehension.
Yes, it was a big band tribute to the irreverent iconoclast Frank Zappa. That’s what Palermo does, and he’s got four albums worth of stellar recordings – the latest, Oh No, Not Jazz, is a double CD, so that actually makes it five – to prove it. But there was none of the sophomoric, pee-pee-doo-doo stuff that Zappa sometimes indulged in. No, this band was focused on his vast catalog of rich, sophisticated instrumental compositions – and they performed them with an undeniable sense of playfulness and a genuine love for the material.