Either/Orchestra Handles All Tough Turns of Jazz Road
“There’s a tune on the record called 'Los Olvidados,' which is inspired by Billy Harper and his compositions. I think he’s one of the great underrated players and a really great writer too. He’s kind of from that generation, that 70s Coltrane mainstream generation that kind of got wiped out by the New Lion generation. So I started thinking about Billy Harper and the way he was inspired by Coltrane and the way he took some of Coltrane’s ideas and gave them another spin. So that was my influence axis on there."
“The Modernist,” he says, “goes back and forth between two different textures. One of which reminds me of Wayne Shorter’s 60s tunes one reminds me of Mingus and the way Mingus would use an ensemble with a bunch of horns in it to create this gospel, church kind of buildup. It was another pair of people who are influences on me. A dialog between my elders, so to speak.”
“Heavily Amplified Hairpiece,” according to Gershon, has “real fat analog synthesizers like Sun Ra used to use. They’re used in that way, as an instrument to achieve further ‘outness’ rather than to further ‘inness’ the way a lot of people do these days to make smooth sounds. I started thinking about Miles and Sun Ra both in the 70s, both with electronics, these two kind of middle-aged guys trying to be cool. Miles being super cool and Sun Ra being cool by being uncool. The different way they were incorporating electronics into their sounds. So that composition is about this interplay between those two approaches.”
So what’s on Neo-Modernism is that different take on the masters. It’s array of recordings, all on Gershon’s own Accurate Records label, shows the Either/Orchestra doesn’t plan on staying in one place.
“One way to put a stamp on your musical persona quickly is to put a wall around it and say, ‘We only do what’s here, inside of this fence,’” he says. “Some people can wall off one square foot and work that one square foot beautifully, brilliantly, and find a whole universe inside of that. There’s nothing wrong with that if you can do it. But I feel like this is a lifetime journey, being a musician, and I don’t want to spend my whole time in one neighborhood. I like to keep traveling.
“I will say that at the core, I’m a jazz musician in the sense that improvisation and the primacy of instrumental soloing and instrumental acuity is really important to me in a way it isn’t to popular musicians or to classical musicians for that matter, where improvisation is really a deeply secondary thing, if it’s there at all. I’m very much a jazz musician, but the material I like to apply that process to comes from all over the place. That philosophy goes for a lot of people in the band.”
The Either/Orchestra continues to do gigs and hone its new material, but it isn’t easy, despite the critical success.
“It’s a little disheartening that it doesn’t get easier. You figure after 18 years and nine albums...,” he says. “After these feathers you put in your press kit, you think that somehow it would get a little easier, but it doesn’t really seem to... Sometimes I feel like, even though we’ve gotten tremendous respect from the press and even from radio and from the fans that know us, I still feel like we’re kind of overlooked in a way. I think we’re a band where almost everyone that has some interest in jazz has sort of heard of us, but when it really comes down to it, most dedicated jazz fans haven’t heard the Either Orchestra. We’re one of the names floating around the fringes of the landscape. It’s a little bit too egotistical to say we’re being taken for granted, but I feel like because we’ve never been on a major label or we’re not based in New York or because I didn’t do the route of being sideman to more established people, then start my own group. For whatever career-type reasons, or maybe because it’s an oddball name and sounds like a rock group or something else. Whatever the reasons are. Because I don’t think it’s the music.
“I think our music is deeply immersed in the jazz tradition and extending it in many directions without losing a feel for it. I don’t think it’s the music. I think it has more to do with these other factors. I feel like we’re overlooked a little bit.”
The group has toured in Europe, but with 10 pieces promoters there see it as too expensive, transportation-wise, and too difficult logistically, says Gershon. So tours in the United States have been easier because “we’ve managed to do it seat-of-the-pants here. Go out in a couple of vans. That’s been great.”