The new Either/Orchestra
Since the mid 1980's Russ Gershon and a talented cavalcade of musicians
(which have included sax man Charlie Kohlhase and John Medeski of Medeski,
Martin and Wood) have been bringing original and originally-arranged jazz to
Boston and beyond. After a four-year hiatus, the boys (and we mean that more
literally than ever) are back with a new line-up, a new tour and a new album
on Accurate Records called "More Beautiful Than Death.".
Worn out after a marathon four-hour retrospective concert which included
over 20 of E/O's many members and the release of a two-disc retrospective
called "Across the Omniverse" (also Accurate), Russ wanted to take a break.
However, after having a child and working on some other projects (including
the new Asa Brebner album and the soundtrack to Errol Morris'' "Mr Death"),
Russ held open auditions to breathe even newer life into the always fresh
The result is a multi-cultural, multi-generational band, some members of
which were barely off the bottle (the milk bottle, that is) when Russ got
the whole thing started. The new album combines Gershon's originals
(including a side-handed tribute to his fellow members of the music industry
called "All Those SOBs") with a trio of tunes inspired by an album of
popular Ethiopian music which was given to Russ by friend and collaborator
When Sandman died last year in Italy, it was Gershon who took up the
Morphine mantle and along with band members Dana Colley and Billy Conway,
formed Orchestra Morphine, another fluctuating ensemble which will be
touring the world simultaneously but separately from E/O. In fact, Orchestra
Morphine is scheduled to play the same Italian festival that hosted
Sandman's tragically final show last year.
Speaking of the new album, Russ says that it includes "both my vision,
but also Jazz, which is naturally improvised and collaborative." Though Russ
is the music director and chief composer and arranger, he tries to let his
fellow E/O-ers, old and new, contribute in their own unique ways. Gershon
makes special note of new percussionists Harvey Wirht and Vicente Lebron,
who are from Suriname and the Dominican Republic, respectively. As the new
rhythmic backbone, the two drummers bring a distinctly Afro-Cuban sound to
"It's pretty straightforward how they have influenced us, " Gershon
As for his own influences, Gershon cites the legendary likes of John
Coltrane and Rashaan Roland Kirk. Despite the fact that his first radio
experience was with the ever-influential Beatles, Gershon was most enamoured
to these great men of the horn. In fact, he credits them with inspiring him
to take up the sax in the first place.
"Kirk and Coltrane really made me want to play," Gershon says, "Coltrane
in particular. I had also played violin and piano, but the sax grabbed me at
In fact, Russ says that, unlike most other musicians, he had an idea of
how he wanted his sax to sound before he started playing.
"Living near New York, I was able to hear everyone in a few years," Russ
recalls. "It was an exciting time, full of new voices, and that gave me a
lot to draw from."
Today, Russ has his own cadre of collaborators from which to draw ideas
and inspiration. And if the past 15 years have been any indication, he'll be
at it for some time to come.