The Either/Orchestra: Mood Music for Time Travellers (Accurate Records, 2010)


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Melodic, hooky, complex, witty, entrancing, passionate: Mood Music for Time Travellers is the E/O's first new album since 2005, and will introduce this 25 year old band to a new audience. Undeniably jazz, challenging and thought-provoking, the vividness and clarity of the writing and playing cuts across genre lines and the expectations of the listener and makes a deep impression on the wider audience as well as jazz cognoscenti.

Mood Music contains ten new originals by leader Russ Gershon, bassist Rick McLaughlin and trombonist Joel Yennior. Over the past seven years, the Either/Orchestra has worked extensively with the greats of Ethiopian music, including composer Mulatu Astatke, vocalist Mahmoud Ahmed and saxophonist Getachew Mekurya. Both the emphasis on rhythm and the jagged pentatonic scales in that distinctive African music have had their effects on the way the E/O works. Their last album, Ethiopiques 20: Live in Addis, a double CD documenting their first concert with Ethiopian guests, received glowing reviews: “astonishing...monumental...the best live album of the year—in any genre," (Paul Olson of AllAboutJazz.com); “sends the senses into the very heart and soul of communal human love...A force that dares to break barriers" (Lofton A. Emenari III, WHPK); “Give five stars to the audience and musicians both. This recording is the flower of their profound embrace" (Norman Weinstein, AllAboutJazz.com).

Coming off the groundbreaking Live in Addis, the emphasis here is on “American" sounds, including vintage 60s boogaloo with a hint of Sly Stone: “The (one of a kind) Shimmy"; elegiac, swinging reggae: “Portrait of Lindsey Schust"; Ellingtonian rhumba: “Boucoups Kookoo"; several shades of Latin jazz: “Coolocity," “Ropa Loca"; South African calypso in 13/4: “Surinam"; Afro-beat/funk/fusion: “The Petrograd Revision"; heavy Latin drumming: “Latin Dimensions"; Euro-Afro-beat: “History Lesson"; and a mysterioso tango in the Ethiopian anchi hoye mode: “Thirty Five."

Amid this jungle of grooves, the E/O stamps its personality on every style, finding organic ways to layer deep collective rhythms with probing jazz improvisations from the soloists and responsive, conversational comping from the rhythm section. The traps are manned by new drummer Pablo Bencid, from Venezuela, who forms a potent percussion duo with long time E/O conguero Vicente Lebron. Another addition since Live in Addis is pianist Rafael Alcala, originally from Mexico, who introduces a deep understanding of Latin pianistics. Alongside veterans Gershon, Tom Halter and Yennior, new horn voices include alto saxophonist Godwin Louis (who has since moved on to the super-selective Monk Institute in New Orleans, succeeded by 20 year old Hailey Niswanger), trumpeter Dan Rosenthal, baritonist Kurtis Rivers, Henry Cook on flute, and the return to the fold of 1987-2001 member Charlie Kohlhase on baritone sax.

Every tune sets a mood, conjures up images, and plays like the soundtrack to a movie that yearns to be made. The band has, in fact, enlisted fillm and rock video maker David Fisher to direct a song video for “The (one of a kind) Shimmy," that looks like no jazz video you've ever seen. It will be featured on the Boston Phoenix website in August.

Mood Music is the perfect followup to the sprawling, epic Live in Addis: focused, refined, joyful and listenable.

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