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No New Abnormal

Tag: tower of power

Twistedly Hilarious Big Band Fun with Ed Palermo’s Reinventions of Psychedelic Rock Classics

If you had the chops to rearrange the Move’s Open Up Said the World at the Door as blustery, quasi big band jazz, would you? Ed Palermo did. That he would know the song at all is impressive. It’s not even the best track on the legendary British band’s worst album. But it’s a twistedly delicious treat, part boogie blues and part Stravinsky. What does the Ed Palermo Big Band’s version sound like?

Bob Quaranta plays a very subtly altered version of Jeff Lynne’s introductory piano hook and then the band makes a scampering, brassy swing shuffle out of it, trumpeter Ronnie Buttacavoli true to the spirit of Lynne’s unhinged road-to-nowhere guitar solo on the original. It perfectly capsulizes the appeal of Palermo’s latest album, a 21 (twenty-one) track monstrosity titled The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1 & 2 – streaming at Cuneiform Records – which does pretty much the same thing with a bunch of reinvented 60s and 70s psychedelic and art-rock songs, most of them on the obscure side. The band are airing them out this May 8 at 8:30 PM at Iridium; cover is $25, which is cheap for this midtown tourist trap.

The Beatles are represented by five tracks. The best and funniest is Eleanor Rigby, which quotes back and forth from a famous and very aptly chosen classical piece. Heavy low brass beefs up Good Morning, while Katie Jacoby’s vioiln adds biting blues rusticity to an otherwise droll, Esquivel-esque chart for a diptych of Don’t Bother Me and I Wanna Be Your Man, with detours into Miles Davis and then a big roadhouse-blues break. And extra brass and reeds add a Penny Lane brightness to the album’s benedictory concluding cut, Goodnight, which has an ending way too hilarious to give away.

The rest of the songs are much lesser-known but just about as amusing. Obviously, it helps if you know the source material. The lone Stones cut here is We Love You, redone to the point of unrecognizability as a mighty, red-neon Vegas noir theme, with a sly dig at Nicky Hopkins and a LMAO Beatles quote. Speaking of Hopkins, the intro to the almost fourteen-minute take of Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder – a Quicksilver Messenger Service epic – will leave you in stitches.

Most of the songs segue into each other. Jacoby’s plaintive lines take centerstage again in Jeff Beck’s Definitely Maybe, leading up to a more ebulliently sailing clarinet solo and then back, in the process finding the song’s moody inner soul. Another Beck number, Diamond Dust benefits from the 15-piece band’s balmiest chart here and a starlit Quaranta piano solo.

King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two is the album’s second-most epic track, with a stark yet symphonic sweep that’s arguably better than the original, punctuated by a moody Bill Straub tenor sax solo over  Bruce McDaniel’s clustering guitar. Palermo and crew also improve on another King Crimson tune, 21st Century Schizoid Man, transforming sludgy mathrock into jaunty swing, lit up by a long Clifford Lyons alto sax solo and Paul Adamy’s pirouetting bass.

Send Your Son to Die, by Jethro Tull predecessors Blodwyn Pig, evokes Tower of Power at their heftiest. Likewise, Tull’s Beggar’s Farm gets redone as a latin number and a vehicle for a long flute solo. Ted Kooshian’s tiptoeing baroque organ adds an element of cynical fun to America, by Keith Emerson’s original band the Nice – although the quote from that dorky 90s band at the end should have been left on the cutting room floor. There’s also an Emerson, Lake and Palmer number here, Bitches Crystal, muting that band’s bombast in favor of swing and an unexpected slink punctuated by a Barbara Cifelli baritone sax solo.

That Palermo would cover Procol Harum’s toweringly elegaic Wreck of the Hesperus rather than, say, Whiter Shade of Pale, speaks to the depth and counterintuitivity of this album: the song itself hews very close to the original. Similarly but on a completely different tip, Fire, the novelty hit by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, is funniest for its over-the-top vocals

The lone current-day (sort of) band included here is Radiohead. Palermo’s take of The Tourist takes the song back in time thirty years, productionwise and transforms it into a lush haunter, fortuitously without mimicking Thom Yorke’s whine.

There are also a couple of duds here. Cream’s As You Said comes across as Spyro Gyra on steroids, and the short version of Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys sounds like a Bleecker Street cover band that wandered into Winter Jazzfest. Still, for a grand total of 21 tracks, the band’s batting average is more than 900. A characteristically robust, joyously entertaining accomplishment for the group, which also includes trombonists Matt Ingman, Michael Boschen and Charley Gordon, trumpeter John Bailey, sax players Phil Chester and Ben Kono,

The Mason Affair Brings the LA Party Vibe

Party music gets a bad name and that’s too bad. We need party music! Remember the last time you walked to the top of the steps and into the place and heard…nothing…and saw all these awkward dorky faces looking around anxiously and realized that you had to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY? This is where bands like the Mason Affair can save an evening. This group is from Los Angeles; they play oldschool 70s funk, but not in a cliched way. What they do is artsy, and slyly funny, and so catchy it’s obscene. The cover of their latest album Eyes on Fire pretty much gives it away – palm trees swaying in the wind. If your idea of a good time is a ride in the back of a ’74 Caprice convertible rolling through the hills on Mulholland at night, bass cranking out of the oldschool speakers right in front of you, this is the next best thing.

The Mason Affair’s style of funk is slinkier than it is hard-hitting, closer to the Blackbyrds than the JB’s. They also mix up the oldschool with the new, which is a lot of fun. For example, the opening track, All Night has sly Zapp and Roger vocoder, and also sexy lowdown Sly Stone clavinova doing the dog in the background. Likewise, Spend Some Time is sort of Pink Floyd gone to Muscle Shoals with Bernie Worrell on keys and Dr. Dre producing.

First Time Again evokes laid-back beach funk bands like Pablo Cruise: it’s retro 70s in the best possible way. Over a sweet, pulsing minor-key groove, the title track makes its way suspensefully up to the big hook…and then they work toward a classic disco vibe on the way out. A little later, I Can Tell you features some sweet tradeoffs between Jay Logan’s wah guitar, Jake Smith’s wry keys and the groove of bassist Jon Olmstead and drummer David Celia – it’s sort of part Ohio Players, part vintage Tower of Power.

The long, lush boudoir groove of Hush contrasts with the album’s hardest-hitting, horn-driven track. Feeling Good. Of the songs with lyrics, the best and edgiest one is The Breaking, a word of warning to a party animal to slow it down a little, set to a biting minor-key tune with a gritty, crescendoing guitar solo from Logan to cap it off. One other refreshing thing about this album is frontman Mike Mason’s nonchalant vocals: he’s not trying to be anybody but himself.

There are also a couple of first-class instrumentals: Fat Strut, which would have made a good Starsky & Hutch theme, and Balls Deep, the most psychedelic track here, with a long guitar outro and a terrifically soulful baritone sax solo from Mike Maricle. The band also has a fun version of Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love that’s way sexier than the original that they’ve got up as a free download at their Bandcamp site.

Rich Purist Psychedelic Soul/Rock Sounds from Damian Quiñones

Damian Quiñones y Su Conjunto’s new album Gumball Ma-Jumbo – streaming in its entirety online – is a masterpiece of tunesmithing, an intricate mix of oldschool late 60s style psychedelic soul, rock and pop spiced with salsa, luscious horn charts, bubbling keys and nasty guitars. Quiñones is the man on the fretboard, jangling, slashing and taking all sorts of solos that blend sunbaked psychedelia with a terse, bluesy edge: he doesn’t waste a note. Likewise, as ornate as his arrangements can be, those don’t waste notes either. It’s one of the best albums of 2012.

Interestingly, the opening track is a wickedly catchy oldschool roots reggae song, a style that Quiñones will only come back to once here, but he nails it, with swirly organ, melodica flourishes, echoey tremoloing guitar and a lush horn chart. He follows that with the only song that really references anything after, say, 1975; it’s an attempt to blend retro 90s and 60s Britpop and it doesn’t really work. But the track after that is a treat – Barrio, pulsing along on a slinky clave beat, juxtaposes Fania-era Puerto Rican soul with a burning powerpop chorus and a tense, suspenseful interlude featuring two basslines. After that, Quiñones takes a pulsing soul song and makes it funkier every time the verse comes around, driven by blazing horns and judiciously slashing guitar fills.

Flyers starts out skeletal but quickly brings in a heavier psychedelic soul vibe: Quiñones’ distorted wah solo over Edwin Canito Garcia’s raw, slinky bassline after the second chorus is one of the highlights of the album. After Laura Mulholland’s tumbling piano intro, Malachi hits a punchy, swaying Big Star groove, Quiñones’ long, searing solo taking the song doublespeed until the end, where he doubletracks another solo alongside it: the effect is intense to say the least. The band follows that with I Know That You That I, blending 60s soul with noir Orbison pop.

What might be the best song – and definitely the best lyric – is Recuredos de Inez, sung in Spanish. Another richly arranged roots reggae tune, it builds to a majestic, regretful, noirishly anthemic crescendo lit up by artfully arranged horns. Or, the best song here might be the unexpectedly sarcastic, dismissive One Trick Pony, funky soul building to a scorching chorus and a series of jagged solos panning between the left and right channels: “It’s hard to discuss where you’ve been with a shoeshine part-time attitude,” Quiñones snarls.

The rest of the album includes Ollie Ollie Oxen Free, a psychedelically funky number like vintage Tower of Power but with more of a guitar-fueled edge; Shadow in the Sun, early 60s noir pop as Arthur Lee might have done it – but with a disco beat – and French Tickler, a tango-rock epic. What links all this together is that Quiñones and his band never play a verse or chorus the same way twice. There’s always a cool addition or subtraction, a subtle accent or rumble from drummer Seth Johnson or percussionist Brian Higbie, or a swell from the brass: trumpeters Brian Baker and Geoffrey Hull and trombonist Gregorio Hernandez lock together and rise like a single mighty horn. It gets better with repeated listening. Watch this space for upcoming shows.