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Progressive Cover Tunes by the Ed Palermo Big Band and the Mahavishnu Project

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THE ED PALERMO BIG BAND: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2006 offers 54 minutes of fun-time music.

The Ed Palermo Big Band is: Ed Palermo (on saxophone and arrangements), Paul Adamy (on bass), Bob Quaranta (on piano), Ray Marchica (on drums), Ted Kooshian (on Kurzweil), Cliff Lyons (on saxophone and clarinet), Phil Chester (on saxophone, flute, and piccolo), Bill Straub (on saxophone and clarinet), Ben Kono (on saxophone and flute), Barbara Cifelli (on saxophone), Charles Gordon (on trombone), Joe Fiedler on trombone), Matt Ingman (on trombone), Ronnie Buttacavoli (on trumpet), John Hines (on trumpet), and Carl Restivo (on vocals and guitar), with special guests Dave Riekenberg (on saxophone) and Emedin Rivera (on percussion).

All of the music was composed by Frank Zappa. The tunes are not Zappa’s zany pop songs, though, they are his instrumental jazz compositions. And these renditions are quite as studiously carefree as the originals, although the band has impressed their own flavor on the material.

There are brass sections aplenty, all crying out in emphatic jubilation. These horns generate the nucleus of the music, conveying intricate melodies with strident definition. The saxophones evoke a passionate, almost traditional jazz air with forceful delivery. The trumpets produce a shrill presence of authority. The trombones create a marching band quality immersed in the jovial cadence.

A bevy of woodwinds brings a rollicking whimsy to the dense structure.

The percussion is complex and steadfast, delivering cascades of dynamic rhythms designed to motivate cardboard lumps into a dance frenzy. In typical Zappa fashion, the mix frequently pauses to allow a catch of beats to resound with startling clarity before the instruments come crashing back in to reestablish the wall of fun.

A few tracks feature xylophonic embellishments, while piano lurks elsewhere in the thick mix.

The compositions themselves are flawlessly bewitching. The band’s takes on these tunes are quite fresh, however, injecting idiosyncratic swing and Latino flairs, and transforming the tuneage into doses of pure delight.

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THE MAHAVISHNU PROJECT: Return to the Emerald Beyond (double CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2007 offers 114 minutes of fusion jazz music recorded live during the summer of 2006.

The Mahavishnu Project is: Gregg Bendian (on drums and dumbeg), Glen Alexander (on guitars and voice), Adam Holzman (on keyboards), Premik Russell Tubbs (on saxophones and flute), Rob Thomas, Katherine Fong, and Zach Brock (on violins), Nicole Federici (on viola), Leigh Stuart (on cello), and Maria Neckam (on voice). All of the compositions are by John McLaughlin, except for one piece by Michael Walden and another by Jan Hammer--all of which were originally recorded by Mahavishnu Orchestra.

One of the keynote factors of the original songs was the absolute fusion of all instruments into a coalescent compression of sound, and the Mahavishnu Project has excellently duplicated that union with spry demeanor.

The violins blaze with ecstatic passion, describing agile riffs that cavort in lively patterns as they soar to vertiginous heights. The presence of multiple violins superbly replicates a sheer maze of mercurial grandeur.

The guitar growls with majestic divinity, belting out searing chords with lightning velocity. The notes sparkle and linger in the air with lives of their own. Passages of acoustic guitar produce an endearing romanticism to the tunes.

The percussion is robust and stalwart, delivering rhythms of dazzling complexity and commanding power. A blend of traditional and ethnic percussives bestow an international savor to the melodies.

The keyboards contribute lavish scope to the music, with sweeping waves of sinuous fluidity as well as doses of hyperspeed definition.

The basslines lurk with smoldering sensation deep in the mix.

It is an ambitious task to tackle the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra, for the originals are the milestone epiphany of fusion jazz. The Mahavishnu Project has managed to create versions, though, that breathe a modern spirit into these classic compositions.

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