The Either/Orchestra at the New School in New York City from left to right: Charlie Kohlhase, Hailey Niswanger, Russ Gershon, saxophones; Joel Yennior, trombone; Tom Halter and Dan Rosenthal, trumpets; Gilson Schachnik, piano; Rick McLaughlin, bass; Pablo Bencid, drums; Vicente Lebron, percussion. David Tallacksen/WBGO hide caption

toggle caption
David Tallacksen/WBGO

The Either/Orchestra at the New School in New York City from left to right: Charlie Kohlhase, Hailey Niswanger, Russ Gershon, saxophones; Joel Yennior, trombone; Tom Halter and Dan Rosenthal, trumpets; Gilson Schachnik, piano; Rick McLaughlin, bass; Pablo Bencid, drums; Vicente Lebron, percussion.

David Tallacksen/WBGO

JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater

Either/Orchestra On JazzSetWBGO

Either/Orchestra On JazzSet

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/147048268/162700601" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

A creative composer and his 10-piece band embed melodies from a golden musical age in the Horn of Africa into Western harmony, and an Afro-Caribbean breeze blows through it, as Russ Gershon and the Either/Orchestra present The Collected Unconscious in Tishman Auditorium at the New School in New York City, in Surround Sound on JazzSet.

Way back in the 1980s, tenor man Gershon dreamed of writing music in the Duke Ellington tradition for a band of Boston players, with a helping of Mingus' blues-and-roots spirit. Toss in Gershon's love of Gil Evans arrangements, and his Either/Orchestra was born. Then, in the '90s, an album titled Ethiopian Groove: The Golden '70s became an underground hit in Cambridge, where Gershon was living. Full of vintage organ sounds, wah-wah guitars and wailing voices, the album got Gershon thinking that those songs would make great jazz.

The influences run both ways. Spin the globe halfway around and turn back the clock a couple extra decades, and Ethiopian music had already absorbed some Western currents.

"Alemayehu Eshete, who's a great singer from that period, always talks about how much he loves Elvis [Presley]," Gershon says. "And we recently did a project of music by Nerses Nalbandian [the Armenian maestro], who lived in Ethiopia. A lot of his music sounds like Latin music with a very Ethiopian flavor. I asked his son, 'What did Nerses like to listen to?' And he said, 'Well, he was really into [Cuban-born bandleader] Xavier Cugat and also Ray Charles.'"

As basic materials, there are the tizeta or Ethiopian blues, sung along major and minor pentatonic scales or modes, and the "cheek cheek-a" rhythm of the azmari, the traditional wandering storytellers. These are coupled with the jazz musician's urge to stretch and accompany the melodies and improvise on extended harmonies.

"I might take the intervals that you find in a mode, move them around, put them on different notes, turn them upside down — all this compositional stuff we Western musicians do — apply it to the Ethiopian material, but try not to lose the character," Gershon says.

Drive the Afro-Caribbean clave rhythm through it, and what can you do but listen and dance?

The Lucid Culture blog called this one of the best New York concerts of 2011.

Set List
  • "Town Hall"

The Collected Unconscious

  • "Subliminal"
  • "Tizeta (fragment)"
  • "Azmari"
  • "No Price for a Ride"
  • "Tizeta (fragment)"
  • "TMG"
  • "Bati Lydian"
  • "1/5/09"

All music by Russ Gershon.

Credits

The Collected Unconscious is made possible with support from Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Development program, funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Bill Charlap and his mother, Sandy Stewart. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Sandy Stewart And Bill Charlap On Piano Jazz

Hear the cabaret singer and her pianist son bring a rare combination of swing and sophistication to a session with host Marian McPartland.

Sandy Stewart And Bill Charlap On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/535960111/535960769" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Marian McPartland and Eddie Gomez in 1993. R.J. Capak/Piano Jazz Archives hide caption

toggle caption R.J. Capak/Piano Jazz Archives

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Eddie Gomez On Piano Jazz

The Grammy-winning bassist's sense of swing shines through on this session with Marian McPartland, who joins in on "My Foolish Heart" and "All Of You."

Eddie Gomez On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/533993916/533995152" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Joshua Redman on saxophone, Scott Colley on bass, Brian Blade on drums and Ron Miles on cornet perform at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Lawrence Sumulong/Jazz at Lincoln Center hide caption

toggle caption Lawrence Sumulong/Jazz at Lincoln Center

Jazz Night In America: Video Episodes And Shorts

Still Dreaming: Joshua Redman's Tribute To A Tribute

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The saxophonist opens up about the legacy of his father, Dewey Redman, and performs with Still Dreaming — his own nod to the quartet his dad once helped convene as an homage to Ornette Coleman.

Terence Blanchard is the guest on this week's Piano Jazz. Henry Adebonojo/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Henry Adebonojo/Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Terence Blanchard On Piano Jazz

The Grammy award-winning trumpeter and composer joins Marian McPartland to perform standards like "I Thought About You" with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi.

Terence Blanchard On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/530240350/530241963" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Buster Williams performs at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. Lawrence Sumulong /Courtesy of Jazz At Lincoln Center hide caption

toggle caption Lawrence Sumulong /Courtesy of Jazz At Lincoln Center

Jazz Night In America: The Radio Program

Buster Williams: The Low End Maestro

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The low end has always been terra firma for Williams, one of the all-time great bassists in modern jazz. Hear highlights of a recent set with his post-bop ensemble, Something More.

Buster Williams: The Low End Maestro

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/528918610/528942262" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

T.S. Monk performs at the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz hide caption

toggle caption Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

T.S. Monk On Piano Jazz

The percussionist dedicated this 1995 set with host Marian McPartland to his father, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/528135123/528136364" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Carmen Cavallaro performs in 1971. Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Carmen Cavallaro On Piano Jazz

The pianist's tender style created an ideal atmosphere for romantics everywhere. In this 1989 session, he solos on his arrangement of a Cole Porter medley.

Carmen Cavallaro On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/527052788/527052981" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top