Ed Palermo’s idiosyncratic big band was born to serve the idiosyncratic music of composer/rock star Frank Zappa, supporting the “serious composer” part of Zappa’s legacy and emphasizing the instrumental pieces that Zappa composed in his final years. Zappa was an avowed fan of the experimental French composer Edgar Varèse and of Looney Tunes house composer Carl Stalling. Palermo’s arrangements capture the skittish ADHD and the 20th-century legitimacy of Zappa’s music perfectly. They also rock.
Palermo’s project exemplifies a new and bracing trend in Zappa studies. Some Zappa enthusiasts regard Frank as a social satirist and seer of a very high order, seating him somewhere between George Carlin and Noam Chomsky. Some, like me, do not. It refreshing to hear Zappa’s music mostly disentangled from the fatiguing, relentless mockery and sneer of his lyrics.
Even son Dweezil’s recent “Zappa Plays Zappa” performances have distanced themselves from the more specious social commentary and sophomoric sexuality of the Zappa oeuvre by focusing on his largely instrumental, guitar-heavy output of the mid-‘70s. Gone is the giant-inflatable-dildo theatricality. Good riddance! What remains is a body of work of such extreme musical challenge that it has made Zappa the Miles Davis of rock: the bandleader whose vision, musical voracity and grueling work ethic produced a generation of ace sidemen – gymnastic instrumental technicians who carry his brand forward.
On Saturday, December 21 at the Falcon in Marlboro, Palermo and his band will be joined by cult-of-Zappa royalty Napoleon Murphy Brock, one of the most gifted and recognizable singers and multi-instrumentalists in all the Zappasphere. The show begins at 7 p.m. Per usual at Tony Falco’s shrine of great music, there is no price of admission – just an earnest call for a substantive donation.
The Falcon is located at 1348 Route 9W in Marlboro. For more information, call (845) 236-7970 or visit www.liveatthefalcon.com.