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The Either/Orchestra

Sanctuary For Independant Media
Troy, NY
August 4, 2006

by Randy Treece

The Sydney Morning Herald got it exactly right when it pronounced
that the Boston-based Either/Orchestra was "the best-kept secret in jazz." What a band! Either/Orchestra's detour to Troy was not serendipitous. The Sanctuary had been negotiating with Russ Gershon, the founder and leader of Either, for nearly a year and it all came to fruition on this Friday evening.

The Sanctuary is an all-volunteer organization quartered in a former church in Troy whose mission is to promote independent, non-commercial, and probably unconventional artists and art forms. This venue is very spartan, replete with donated or well-used equipment and in need of a good paint job and projects an air of an artist commune. All forms of art are promoted and their performance schedule is eclectic (we can expect to see jazz violinist Billy Bang next month). The Either Orchestra fit neatly within this bill.

Either is neither a big swing band nor an orchestra in the conventional percept of the word, but rather a large ensemble with an even larger presence. The instrumentation includes various reeds (3), various brass (3), bass, drummer, percussionist, and a key board specialist, and I must say that this amazing group possesses one of the strongest sax lines, comprising of Russ Gershon on tenor, Kurtis River on baritone, and Jeremy Udden on alto, that I have ever heard. Because the sax line is so strong and packs such a wallop, the brass is not an equal counter balance.

After nineteen years of collaboration and sixteen albums, this ensemble defies categorization and that is by design. Their sound and musical direction will never be duplicated or co-opted. They are so inimitable in every sense of the word that emulation is an impossibility. And, their musical ideas and creativity run rampant. Probably from ingesting every conceivable musical influence in existence, their music is splattered with a broad colorful palette, unique chordal harmonies, ever-evolving rhythms, and a sense of exoticism. The show was not your typical simple, rote playing type of gig. Conceptually the music is a repository of everything original and fresh, seasoned by the influences of Mingus and Sun Ra.

Drawing upon a number of their CDs, Either fertilized our imagination with a cross pollination of their uncompromising recordings. The show started with a tremendous bass introduction by Rich McLaughlin followed by cerebral solos by trombonist Joel Yennior and alto saxist Jeremy Udden, on a song entitled "#3" which can best be described as Afro-Cuban meets the Memphis Beat. We next segued into an Ethiopian folk song entitled "Muziqawi" wherein bari saxophonist, Kurtis River scorched the room. There was also a trumpet solo but it lacked comparable stature to River's exquisitely exotic solo. In a tip of the hat to an old friend, Russ Gershon and trumpeter Tom Halter, the two longest tenured members of the band, delivered two fine solos on the reggae-tinged "Portrait of Linsey Schist" [sic]. The newest member of the band, Rafael Alcal, on piano, got a chance to show off his musical wares on a Latin driven bonanza from the Afro-Cubism album which turned red hot by entertaining Vincente Lebron on congas and drummer Pablo Bencid. The band had oodles of fun on "Beau Coup Coo Coo", an original, humorous ditty wrapped in eccentric musical notions.

The second half of the show was restricted to a musical suite from the Ethiopiques recording. Running approximately thirty-five minutes, Either unleashed a certified, outside-the-box smorgasbord of intoxicating rhythms, chordal modalities, and swirling musical themes. There were two distinct and penetrating moments in this set. There was this SunRaesque undercurrent smoldering in the background generated by organist Alcala and the uninhibited and explosive solo by Jeremy Udden conjuring the phonetic and trance-like solos of Coltrane. Udden's solo boiled into an intoxicating cacophonous stew few will forget.

Wouldn't it be wonderful treat if Either made a return visit on
their way home.

Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz "and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany.