After a hiatus of almost a year, the Either/Orchestra is swinging back into action with one of their favorite guest performers, legendary Ethiopian singer Teshome Mitiku. Teshome’s entrancing voice and lyrics meet their perfect match in the E/O’s Afro-Caribbean rhythms and rich horn arrangements.
Western pop music hit Ethiopia hard in the 1950s and 60s, and the most popular Western-style combo was the Soul Ekos, featuring the singing of Teshome. Under the guidance of Ethio-jazz creator Mulatu Astatke, Teshome and the band recorded a number of songs that have stood the test of time amongst Ethiopians worldwide. The inclusion of four of them on the prestigious “Ethiopiques, Volume 1” has introduced Teshome to an international audience in recent years.
In 1970, Teshome was forced out of Ethiopia by Emperor Haile Selassie’s government, and has lived in Sweden and the US since. In 1998, Either/Orchestra leader Russ Gershon heard Teshome’s “Yezamed Yebada” and arranged it for his Grammy-nominated 10 piece band. Teshome heard the E/O’s version on the radio in Washington, D.C., and contacted Gershon, striking up a friendship and collaboration that has yielded performances in Cambridge and New York, and also headlining the Chicago Jazz Festival in front of 20,000 people.
By Bill Beuttler Globe Correspondent
Somerville — Russ Gershon’s 10-piece Either/Orchestra, joined in spots by former band members Jerome Deupree and Dan Fox, celebrated its 30th anniversary at Johnny D’s on Friday with two spirited sets of music from past and forthcoming albums, displaying the broad, good-humored mix of jazz modernism, Latin accents, and Ethiopian exoticism that have defined the locally based ensemble through the years.
That Gershon has kept some version of the group together so long — five of the 10 current members have been aboard for 17 years or longer, with trumpeter Tom Halter there from the beginning and saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase joining two years later — must owe partly to his generosity as a leader. Everyone soloed as the night progressed, Gershon himself just twice and Kohlhase, alto saxophonist Mark Zaleski and trumpeter Dan Rosenthal (newish band members at three and nine years’ service, respectively) a little more than that.
Five Gershon compositions were featured, and several of his arrangements, but he also found room for tunes by former band members Curtis Hasselbring (“He Who Hesitates”) and Bob Nieske (“Fast Edd”), jazz greats Rahsaan Roland Kirk (“Lady’s Blues”) and Horace Silver (“Ecaroh”), and a handful of pieces from his beloved Ethiopia, including the three-movement “Ethiopian Suite.”
Gershon also enjoyed cracking wise during song announcements. When Kohlhase switched from baritone to alto sax for “The Half-Life of Desire,” Gershon joked he was “trying to give [Kohlhase’s] rapidly aging spine a break.” It turned out to be a highlight, Kohlhase swapping the growliness of his bari for a balladic sweetness redolent of Johnny Hodges. Gershon also claimed, tongue-in-cheek, that his never recorded “Holiday Fallout,” featuring Joel Yennior on trombone, was meant to evoke “a little bit of that queasy holiday feeling.”
The newer and/or less familiar stuff came in the second set, building toward the set-closing “Ethiopian Suite,” which Gershon said the band hadn’t played in five years, and the leader’s soprano sax solo on “Feker Aydelemwey,” which included a brief audience clap-along toward the finish.
“I’d also like to thank the 50-some band members we’ve had over the years,” Gershon said as he wrapped up naming Friday’s contingent. John Medeski, Matt Wilson, and Miguel Zenón are three who slipped the Either/Orchestra orbit and achieved renown elsewhere. Gershon and his current guys aren’t as well-known beyond Boston, but as a group they looked comparably capable at Johnny D’s.
Bill Beuttler can be reached at email@example.com.
Either/Orchestra Celebrates Their 30th Anniversary at Johnny D’s in Somerville, Dec. 18
By Matt Micucci, Jazziz Magazine
2015 marks the 30th anniversary of Either/Orchestra. The band will be celebrating the occasion with a performance at Johnny D’s in Somerville MA on Friday December 18.
Either/Orchestra is a ten piece jazz ensemble, led by saxophonist Russ Gershon, who founded the band in Cambridge, Massachussets in 1985.
Gershon has stated that his initial intention was simply born out of wanting to hear great musicians realize his vision of the large jazz ensemble, influenced by Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Charles Mingus and Sun Ra. Yet the ensuing decades unfurled an adventure in swing, bebop, avant-garde, Latin and Ethiopian jazz, producing Grammy nominated arrangements, perennial placement in critics’ polls and appearances on the most prestigious stages of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Paris, Rome and beyond.
The band is characterized by a heavier and more orchestrated sound than that of a smaller jazz combo, but remains more streamlined and improvisation-oriented than most big bands.
Either/Orchestra quickly developed a reputation for presenting adventurous music in an entertaining package, delighting and challenging club, colleges and festival audiences in small towns and big cities, as well as recording a string of critically acclaimed albums, and Grierson’s ear for talent made the band a formative showcase for such names as John Medeski, Miguel Zenon and Matt Wilson, who would go on to have prominent and celebrated careers on the jazz scene.
On December 18, Russ Gershon, will be joined by alumni guests for a romp through material from their eleven albums, featuring the thrilling jazz, Latin and Ethiopian sounds that have made them unique through a generation of jazz history.
In addition, the Either/Orchestra will be releasing two albums in the spring of 2016, The Collected Unconscious on Accurate Records and The Music of Nerses Nalbandian on Ethiopiques, Buda Musique.
Other trombonists named as “Rising Stars” include Vincent Gardner, Mashall Gilkes, Michael Dease, and Alan Ferber (among others).
The Either/Orchestra also received mention in the “Big Band” (Established Talent) Category. Joel has been a member of the Either/Orchestra since 1998. Current Either/Orchestra member Charlie Kohlhase (baritone sax) also received a nomination to the 2014 Downbeat Critic’s List, as well as former members Miguel Zenon (alto sax/arranger), Jaleel Shaw (alto sax), and Haley Niswanger (alto sax).