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 firstname.lastname@example.org.