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The Either Orchestra - Mood Music for Time Travellers (2010)

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By Mark Saleski

I'm going to begin by saying something that will probably horrify many a jazz lover: I never liked Duke Ellington or Count Basie all that much.

It's true. I know that a jazz writer shouldn't be admitting to such things but sometimes you have to stick with honesty. OK, and while I'm at it? I got annoyed after they mentioned Louis Armstrong for the 427th time during that Ken Burns series. I thought, can somebody please duct tape Marsalis and Crouch to a pole so we can discuss a little Albert Ayler and maybe Cecil Taylor too?

Ahem...

Over the years, I have come to appreciate these giants of the jazz world, though my point of entry originated with a handful of the more modern large ensembles. Modern? Yes, people are still making big band music. Some names to consider are Carla Bley, Bobby Sanabria (his Afro-Cuban ensemble just kills), Maria Schneider, and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Either/Orchestra.

The Either/Orchestra is known for fearless arrangements, intimacy despite their size, and killer grooves. Fearless? The tune that drew me in was a very cool cover of King Crimson's “Red." At a show at the Regattabar in Cambridge, they played the winding, three-part “Ethiopian Suite" that pretty much stunned the crowd with its complexity and dynamics. They'll cover The Beatles. They'll cover Duke Ellington. And they'll be equally convincing at each turn.

On Mood Music for Time Travellers, Russ Gershon and his cohorts are at it again, presenting a ten-song program that features Latin jazz, tons of percussion, sorta-Afro beat, reggae (kinda), and something that sounds like it would be right at home in one of those really bad movies from the 1970's.
A bad movie from the 70's or maybe even a Jim Jarmusch film. “The (one of a kind) Shimmy" does indeed shimmy in a Lee Morgan kind of way, so much so that it's easy to imagine some dude with heavy sideburns driving down a busy city street in his green VW Microbus...or maybe Bill Murray approaching the house of one of his old flames in Broken Flowers. This is a good sign, the generation of images while listening to music.

On the Latin side of things, “Latin Dimensions" makes great use of space by alternating swelling blasts from the horns with extremely insistent percussion. Tension is built up by a mid-composition drum solo and is then taken over the top as the horns reenter. The first time I heard this, I actually broke out into a little sweat. Imagine, I used to not like big-band music!

It was surprising to hear “Portrait of Lindsey Schust" slowly morph from a searching, almost Braxton-leaning thing into a reggae vibe. The initial section of the tune builds & builds upon this slow groove and then...a B3 insinuates itself and commences to skank! I'm not sure what made me grin more, this unexpected turn of events or the short “A Love Supreme" quote that popped up a few moments later.

What my ear parts love so much about this group is their ability to take totally serious music and make it fun. They take the tradition outside “the museum" and make us remember that jazz doesn't have to be this opaque, academic exercise. Give “The Petrograd Revision" a listen. It begins with a snazzy groove set out with just bass and drums, shortly followed by the organ. The horns soon come in with a little call & response. When lower-registered horns launch into their thing, the sense of groove and joy is overpowering.

The Either/Orchestra will release Mood Music for Time Travellers on August 11th. The CD release party will be held at the Regattabar on September 11th. On December 17th, the group will celebrate its 25th year. After that, who knows?!!

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This story appears courtesy of Something Else!.
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