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Either's Way
The new Either/Orchestra
By Matthew S. Robinson
(more articles from this author)
2001-05-28
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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 Either/Orchestra.

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 Mark Sandman.

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 the band.

"It's pretty straightforward how they have influenced us, " Gershon says.

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 that point."

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.


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