Live in Addis, the latest release by the Either/Orchestra, provides a superb example of the way Russ Gershon, E/O's founder and main composer/arranger, keeps the band fresh and exciting by always moving into new territory and never standing still.
The path that led to this historic concert has already been described in these pages, but the more important thing is how Ethiopian popular music is refracted through the peculiar lens of Gershon and company to produce something entirely new which can be appreciated by lovers of jazz and Ethiopian music alike.
For twenty years Russ Gershon has led a band that plays his original compositions or arrangements, along with originals by band members and cooperative arrangements. While the personnel has changed over the years, the attitude of the E/O, admittedly anchored by Gershon's unique musical personality, has remained the same: a blend of top-notch musicianship, much humor, and powerthe only constant being the group's ability to surprise the listener every time out. (Who else would think of juxtaposing Monk's "Nutty with "Ode to Billy Joe, as on Radium?) Furthermore, the band has always had great soloists and a strong camaraderie, creating the feel of non-arrangements while playing.
Even for someone not particularly enthralled with "world music in general, Live in Addis is a total gas from the first notes of "Amlak Abét Abét, where the E/O roars out of the gate to set the tone for the entire concert. They leave nothing behind, blowing up a storm with complicated polyrhythms underneath, totally flattening everything before them. Gershon's modus operandi is laid open for inspection, with the Ethiopian part clearly heard in the rhythm and the tune blown in unison. But then the soloing starts, and we now have jazz.
You can hear the audience in Addis Ababa really get into what is happening as they applaud when the second half of the fifteen-minute piece is introduced with a recap of the main tune. A hush settles as Jeremy Udden, with that unearthly tone of his, takes a solo with just pianist Greg Burk and some quiet drumming behind him. The solo is quite abstract and could easily be accepted as advanced jazz. The percussion starts coalescing and the tension rises, Udden starts playing multiphonics, the band plays interjections behind him, and the music on the pedal point reaches an almost excruciating tension until the main tune reappears again to wild applause.
And, remember, this is just the first track of two hours of music!
Having totally won the audience over, the band slides seamlessly into a softer "Muziqawi Silt, featuring a beautiful bass solo by Rick McLaughin, and the rest of the show ebbs and flows, many times reaching peaks of ecstasy. Some prominent Ethiopian musicians guest on the second disc, and tenor saxophonist Gétatchèw Mèkurya is incredibly powerful on "Shellèla.
Live in Addis is a total triumph as music, once again, is shown to be able to bring together diverse peoples in mutual love.
Russ Gershon: tenor and soprano saxophone; Jeremy Udden: alto saxophone; Henry Cook:
baritone saxophone, flute; Joel Yennior: trombone; Tom Halter: trumpet; Colin Fisher:
trumpet: Greg Burk: piano, Fender Rhodes; Rick McLaughlin: bass; Harvey B. Wirht: drums;
Vicente Lebron: congas, percussion. With Mulatu Astotq
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