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The Either/Orchestra
Across the Omniverse,  Accurate Records CDx2 AC-3272, 1996 (73:48) & (71:11)

Ten years of mixing it up

Every couple of years, Accurate gives us another swinging album by the Either/Orchestra. Boston’s great little big band recently celebrated its aluminum anniversary with this double CD set of previously unreleased goodies. The recordings span the full history of the band from 1986 to 1996 and feature the many fine musicians who have contributed along the way. Although the collective list of personnel is large, the band has always been just ten or eleven strong at any time–two trumpets, two trombones, three saxes (including band leader and record label founder Russ Gershon), keyboards, bass, drums and, in its early incarnations, guitar.

A glance at the song titles suggests the omnivorous nature of this outfit, with copious originals sharing space with Ellingtonia (Johnny Hodges’ "The Jeep Is Jumpin’," Juan Tizol’s "Caravan" and the Duke’s own "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Timon of Athens"), should-be-standard modern jazz tunes (John Tchichai’s "Swamiji’s Mood," Gigi Gryce’s "Blue Light," Sonny Simmons’ "Coltrane in Paradise" and Richie Beirach’s "Pendulum") and off-the-wall borrowings (Burt Bacharach’s "The Look of Love" and John Lennon’s "(I Want You) She’s So Heavy").

So what’s the music like? I’d describe it as hard driving, noisy, very smart and just a little sleazy. The inventive arrangements are full of lurch and swerve. The swing expected of a jazz big band is here, as well as New Orleans funk (especially when Jerome Deupree is playing drums), Zappaesque jazz-rock (Sleep Dirt-era), free improvisation in multiple keys, that rhythmic sense Jelly Roll Morton called "the Latin tinge," a pinch of Gil Evans’ impressionism, and an ironic eye on pop culture, all well mixed. This is a true collective band, and many of the arrangements are uncredited, suggesting the whole group contributed as the tune developed.

There are no duds on this set, and several highlights. "The Jeep is Jumpin’" starts the first CD off in the tradition, with several of the band members trading phrases before some collective improvisation that echoes back to the beginnings of jazz. Some nice scoring for the entire band then swings the tune out. Clocking in at less than four minutes, this uncredited arrangement is almost as tight as 78-era Ellington. Robb Rawling’s take on Duke’s "In a Sentimental Mood" for an early edition of the band poses a nice counter melody under a slow statement of the tune, interrupted by a sprightly Latin section. "The Look of Love" staggers by in lamé and rhinestones as Tom Halter on trumpet tries out his best pick-up lines. Gershon’s blues waltz "Born in a Suitcase" follows Peter Gunn and George Gershwin on a dangerous caper in the industrial district, where John Medeski (see our survey of Medeski Martin & Wood) takes a stroll on piano before the brass blow everything open for series of fine solos, especially a raging Charlie Kohlhase on baritone.

On the second CD, Kohlhase’s "The New Llama Walk" is an energetic goof-footed blues walk. Mark Sandman (of Morphine) is Gershon’s co-arranger on "Caravan" which prominently features the rhythm section of Chris Taylor, John Turner and Matt Wilson before the entourage ends its trek at some lonely oasis. Bob Nieske’s "There’s a Bus That’s Leaving Soon for Alban Berg’s House" of course suggests Gershwin’s "There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York" from "Porgy and Bess," but also echoes "An American in Paris" and "Harlem Nocturne." Nieske says there’s a also bit of Alban Berg’s "Wozzeck" (the prototypical twentieth century opera) here, but I missed it. Sonny Simmons’ wonderful tribute "Coltrane in Paradise" sounds like a chorus of Coltranes on their Ascension. If ever a Beatles tune demanded a big band arrangement, "I Want You" from Abbey Road is the one. Deupree’s drums drives the big rig on this wonderfully noisy live version, with the band members screaming and giggling "She’s So Heavy" at all the right places. Gershon’s "Ballad for Sun Ra" is a sweet eulogy for one of the sunniest of musicians.

This set is a fine representation of the E/O. All but the four newest songs are from recording sessions for previous albums, but these songs are definitely not tail ends and leavings, which is a testament to the depth of the band. The quality of the recording naturally varies from cut to cut, but not enough to be noticeable unless you’re listening for it. This is a great way to get to know this adventurous band–but then, so are any of its previous albums. –  Glenn Brooks


Tom Halter, Bob Seely, John Carlson, trumpet, pocket trumpet, fluegelhorn; Russell Jewell, Josh Roseman, Curtis Hasselbring, Dan Fox, trombone; Robb Rawlings, Oscar Noriega, Douglas Yates, Andrew D’Angelo, alto sax, clarinets; Russ Gershon, tenor & soprano sax; Charlie Kohlhase, baritone & alto sax; Steve Norton, baritone sax; John Dirac, guitar; Kenny Freundlich, John Medeski, Chris Taylor, piano, synthesizer, organ; Michael Rivard, Bob Nieske, John Turner, bass, electric bass; Jerome Deupree, Matt Wilson, Eric Rosenthal, drums.

song titles

The Jeep Is Jumpin’ • Theme from "The E-men" • No Negative Energy: Intro • No Negative Energy • Doghouse Interior • In a Sentimental Mood • Big Butt • The Look of Love • Night of the Living Blues • Swamiji’s Mood • Born in a Suitcase • The New Llama Walk • Caravan • Timon of Athens • Blue Lights • There’s a Bus That’s Leaving Soon for Alban Berg’s House • Coltrane in Paradise • The Door • Pendulum • (I Want You) She’s So Heavy • Ballad for Sun Ra • Jump

of related interest


 Dial "E", Accurate CD AC-2222, 1986 (46:52)
E/O at their most melodic. Two long warm Gershon originals and fine versions of Sonny Rollins’ "Doxy" and Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s "Lady’s Blues" surround a centerpiece of Monk’s "Brilliant Corners" with its own centerpiece being a great drum solo by Jerome Deupree, full of second line strut.

 Radium, Accurate CD AC-3232, 1988 (69:12)
A very different version of "Born in a Suitcase" recorded three years before the one on "Across the Omniverse" and another Gershon original lead off this album of (mostly) covers. Mingus’s "Moanin’" gets a heated workout with an extended solo introduction by Charlie Kohlhase, and the old chestnut "Willow Weep for Me" closes the set elegantly. The highlight of the album is the dementedly inspired pairing of Thelonious Monk’s "Nutty" with Bobbie Gentry’s "Ode to Billy Jo." This album is a fine encapsulation of the E/O and may be their most successful single album.

 The Half-Life of Desire, Accurate CD AC-3242, 1990, (55:21)
Recorded by the legendary jazz recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder in his New Jersey studio, this album is the first to feature originals by a band member other than Gershon, namely Curtis Hasselbring. There is another clever pairing, in this case Miles Davis’s "Circle in the Round" and Duke’s "I Got It Bad." And a wonderfully twisted version of "Temptation" with spaghetti Western guitar and blasts of brass providing spooky backup for appropriately slimy vocals by Morphine’s Mark Sandman. "You came, I was alone, I should have known you were–temptation!" Much of the album swings along with a Coltranish modality bordering at times on fusion. And yes, the recording is good (though mixed loud) with more of a sense of a real space around the band than on the other albums.

 The Calculus of Pleasure, Accurate CD AC-3252, 1992 (74:35)
Hmm, do you notice a certain scientific bent to these album titles? Another original composer, Bob Nieske, joins Gershon and Hasselbring, along with covers of Benny Golson’s "Whisper Not" (very sexy), Horace Silver’s "Ecaroh," and Julius Hemphill’s "The Hard Blues." Gershon’s "Bennie Moten’s Wierd Nightmare" brings an off-center Mingus take on Basie. This one rocks from start to finish, with new drummer Matt Wilson providing a more bebop pulse than Deupree and John Medeski wailing on piano and Hammond B-3.

 The Brunt, Accurate AC-3262, 1994 (65:18)
Thoroughly post-modern by now, with lots of jump cuts. A great jazz waltz by Gershon, "Pas de Trois," leads off, and Dan Fox contributes an original along with Hasselbring and Nieske. A fine Mal Waldron tune, "Hard Talk," features the saxes. The playing throughout is very together, especially on a wailing version of Duke’s "Blues for New Orleans." Then, the whole thing winds down with a wicked version of Dylan’s "Lay Lady Lay." Almost as well-recorded as  Desire, this is my favorite E/O album after  Radium. I think. Ask me again tomorrow.

Copyright © 1997 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.