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Live Reviews

Either/Orchestra: New York City, February 11, 2011

Either/Orchestra: New York City, February 11, 2011
By Published: February 24, 2011
Either/Orchestra
Le Poisson Rouge
New York, NY
February 11, 2011

If you graduated school to work for a law firm or a contracting company, your reunion would probably not be a raucous or joyous event. However, if you and your classmates went on to be the employees of Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
, Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie
1941 - 1999
trumpet
, Sam Rivers
Sam Rivers
Sam Rivers
1923 - 2011
sax, tenor
, Nnenna Freelon
Nnenna Freelon
Nnenna Freelon
b.1954
vocalist
and Morphine—and if one of you founded your own company, called Medeski, Martin & Wood
Medeski, Martin & Wood
Medeski, Martin & Wood

band/orchestra
—there'd certainly be cause to celebrate. This was the atmosphere at New York City's Le Poisson Rouge, during Either/Orchestra's 25th anniversary show. The both reverent and irreverent big band is one of the few longstanding legends of jazz hewn outside the New York area, hailing from the Cambridge/Boston area. Much like its New England contemporary, George Garzone
George Garzone
George Garzone
b.1950
sax, tenor
's The Fringe, Either/Orchestra has taken its sound and vision to concerts halls around the world, with more than 1,000 concerts under its belt. Coming into New York to join up with many of their illustrious alumni, the Either/Orchestra made an indelible mark on new listeners and seasoned fans alike.

The band was not showing its age, or any signs of restraint. Throughout the show, the stage was bombarded with a massive number of musicians, switching and compiling unorthodox changes in personnel that would have tripped up a group one-eighth its size. On one tune in particular, every rhythm guest was playing (two bassists, three keyboardists, four drummers, a guitarist and a conguero). The horns were no exception; at its apex, the band consisted of seven saxophonists, five trombonists and three trumpeters, not to mention the occasional vocalist. The ensemble also prevailed in endurance, plowing through 14 selections in a marathon stretch of three hours, with no break, save for leader Russ Gershon
Russ Gershon
Russ Gershon
b.1959
sax, tenor
's occasional introductions.

With so many years of activity and so many styles traversed, the orchestra was posed with the unique task of exhibiting its versatility in a concise program, and was undoubtedly successful. What needs to be mentioned first and foremost was the group's utmost sincerity in the styles played. For all its genre explorations, the group can swing hard. A medley of "Blue Lights/Evil Eye," taken from an obscure John Gilmore
John Gilmore
John Gilmore
1931 - 1995
saxophone
/Clifford Jordan
Clifford Jordan
Clifford Jordan
1931 - 1993
saxophone
record, was driven by a playful and energetic cymbal-heavy swing from Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
b.1964
drums
. Gershon's "One of a Kind Shimmy" was pure, unadulterated hard bop, with pianist Dan Kaufman channeling Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton
1934 - 2013
piano
and Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
, reverberating and interacting with a Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
1925 - 2005
organ, Hammond B3
-inspired John Medeski
John Medeski
John Medeski

keyboard
, at his wah-wah organ.

Some of the orchestra's other swinging numbers were not as polite. "Notes on a Cliff," written by trombonist and alumnus Curtis Hasselbring, featured dense chord motion and plenty of crunchy dissonance. The bluesy call-and-response dialogue between trombones and trumpets was surrounded by a whirling mania of Latin rhythms, lush backgrounds and Wilson's steely Afro-Cuban rumbles. Hasselbring shared an expressive dialogue with the drums, diving headfirst into the lowest register of his trombone. "Eulogy," a two-for-one tribute to Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy
1934 - 2004
sax, soprano
and Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
, paid its tribute to these jazz greats through musical imitation. The knotty, spiky melodies, arranged in typical bop rhythmic inventions, were cut directly from the Lacy cloth. A dual drum conversation between Wilson and Pablo Bencid paid tribute to Jones' ability to create pulse and melody from his drum set; one drummer creating pulse, while the other soloed.

The ensemble clearly demonstrated a special affinity for the sound of Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
; "Town Hall Meeting" was full of the kind of manic swing, restless energy and anachronistic marriage of pre-bop rhythms and post-bop harmony that made Mingus' music so revolutionary. Gershon's Grammy Award-nominated "Bennie Moten's Weird Nightmare" paid the same kind of tribute to Benny Moten
Benny Moten
Benny Moten
1916 - 1977
bass
that Mingus paid to Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
1890 - 1941
piano
: similar instrumentation, same chord changes as "Moten Swing," but the meaning was all its own. The dance macabre version of this early pop tune was a bass clarinet feature for alumnus and premier engineer of his instrument, Doug Yates
Doug Yates
Doug Yates

sax, alto
. Yates soloed with a refreshing and invigorating post-Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
1928 - 1964
reeds
sound that emphasized nuance as much as it emphasized Dolphy's signature wooliness, traveling up and down from his swampy low register to his cool tempered upper register. Bassist Bob Nieske
Bob Nieske
Bob Nieske

bass, acoustic
's hypnotic "There's a Bus That's Leaving Soon for Alban Berg's House" was full of pulsating, dramatic 20th-century harmony, deftly controlled by Wilson's switch between John Adams-style percussion expositions to a cool, dark swing and driven home by the ferocious, complex dual-alto soloing of Jeremy Udden
Jeremy Udden
Jeremy Udden

saxophone
and Godwin Louis.



As to be expected, the affair was not simply dressed in the ride cymbal-driven backbeat of big bands past. Either/Orchestra also brought its A-game when churning out rock and soul jams. "Something For NOLA," a musical tribute to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, kicked off with a glorious brass fanfare, and erupted in a The Meters
The Meters
The Meters

band/orchestra
-inspired funk groove. The Motown-meets-Basin-Street composition was an exceptionally appropriate vehicle for Medeski's organ blasts and guitarist John Dirac's conversational blues solo. Dirac's arrangement of King Crimson's "Red" was a brass driven appropriation of the famous prog rock group's sense of bombast. This was a moment where the group's enormous size played entirely in its favor; the film score type effect of Crimson's theatrical sound was enforced by a diversity of muted brass, auxiliary woodwinds, and blend of electric and acoustic colors.

For all its eclecticism, the band has picked up a specialty over the years through its interest in Ethiopian music. Two of the Ethiopian selections featured vocalist Teshome Mitiku, singing in a beautiful, melismatic and almost Hebraic vocal style. Mitiku's "Yezamed Yebada" featured yearning but powerful horn hits and a ferocious alto cadenza from Hailey Niswanger
Hailey Niswanger
Hailey Niswanger

sax, alto
. Gershon's arrangement of the Ethiopian protest anthem "Altchalkoum" colored the uplifting, resilient melody with huge American big band-isms, while his tenor flowed with the unrestrained power of '60s free jazz pioneers. "Keset Eswa Bicha" exhibited a lively conversation between the brass and the reeds, over an ever-present stomp. Melodies connected and intertwined, as the rhythm section dropped in and out, all under John Carlson's articulate, clarion trumpet solo. "Ambassel,," Gershon and Mitiku's composition in the Ethiopian mode, pulsated between the trombones and the drums, setting up a lush background for alumnus Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman

trombone
, whose trombone solo was as impassioned as it was intelligent. Not only was he comfortable in all registers of the horn, his sonic palette effortlessly painted a different color for each tone chosen, organized in a style versed in both Don Drummond-brand soul and Hal Crook harmony.

The band also fared reasonably well in Latin jazz. Its slightly ironic rendition of George Harrison
George Harrison
George Harrison
1943 - 2001
guitar
's "Don't Bother Me/No Me Molesta," sung with original Spanish lyrics by conguero Vicente Lebron (tweaking the original intention of Harrison's lyrics in favor of a happier mood), was complete with Fania All-Stars style group vocals and joyous hand claps. On Gershon's "Breaktime for Dougo," the post-bop harmonies wrangling with the rumbles of the drum set,s and congas produced an authentic, naturalistic montuno rhythm. Yates' alto sax solo was soulful, with a heavy dose of the bizarre, while the multiple drummers rose and fell with the saxophonist.

The last number was a bellowing, mournful blues, "Born in a Suitcase." As the band laid back on the beat, behind the slightly off-kilter bop solos of Joel Yennior and Dan Rosenthal, and a rollicking organ solo from Medeski, a photo montage of the seasoned and illustrious career of the band played behind. The chart transformed into a soul jam, with Niswanger setting up enormous vertical structures of sound, ripping from top to bottom. It was an appropriate closer for a band that's been around the world, yet still pushes for more.


Photo Credit

Page 1: Phil Stiles

Page 2: Eric Antoniou


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Download jazz mp3 “The (one of a kind) Shimmy” by Either/Orchestra Download jazz mp3 “Yezamed Yebada” by Either/Orchestra