Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Either/Orchestra Are Back Like They Never Left

Either/Orchestra’s first album in five years, Mood Music for Time Travellers, was worth the wait. Over the past several years, the deviously eclectic ten-piece ensemble have collaborated with pretty much every Ethiopian jazz legend, most famously Mulatu Astatke, of Broken Flowers fame. So it’s no surprise there’s plenty of Ethiopique to pique you here, but there’s also plenty of saxophonist/bandleader Russ Gershon’s latin vamps and signature wit. Much of this is cinematic, some of it is hypnotic, and the compositions, Gershon’s especially, are generous, giving his bandmates plenty of room to solo. As the title implies, there’s a frequent goodnaturedly satirical, psychedelic flavor to several of the songs.

The tongue-in-cheek but vivid period piece Coolocity evokes a David Lynchian Mulholland Drive of the mind circa 1958, balmy noir atmospherics over a warped clave beat and a big portentous riff leaping from the midst of a conga solo from Vicente Lebron. Thirty Five, by bassist Rick McLaughlin is a deliciously mysterious clinic in implied melody and foreshadowing, Gershon’s soprano sax supplying a sneaky snakecharmer vibe all the way through to a distantly mysterioso piano solo by Rafael Alcala. Alcala’s organ anchors the swaying funk of The Petrograd Revision, one of the more Ethiopian-tinged numbers with its circular theme, highlighted by Godwin Louis’ warm alto sax followed by Daniel Rosenthal’s  cloudbursting trumpet.

Another first-rate, cinematic cut is Ropa Loca, blending the best of both the Ethiopian and latin influences, salsa piano emerging playfully behind fluid trumpet lines, Gershon adding an air of disquiet which sends the ensemble running around in pairs or trios – the arrangement is great fun. Trombonist Joel Yennior (who has a delightful trio album just out) contributes the percussively hypnotic Latin Dimensions and the gorgeously soul-infused Suriname, evoking Hugh Masekela with its circling central hook and sly, contented baritone sax from Kurtis Rivers. There’s also the playfully deadpan backbeat theme The (One Of a Kind) Shimmy that opens the album; Beaucoups Kookoo, the most Astatke-inflected number here; A Portrait of Lindsey Schust, a fond, vividly evocative homage, and McLaughlin’s richly arranged, suspensefully charged History Lesson that winds it up. It’s hard to believe that they’ve been around 25 years, albeit with some lineup changes as one famous jazz guy after another cycled through the band – they’ll be celebrating that milestone with another live album in 2011. You’ll see this one high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year: it’s out now on Accurate Records. Watch this space for a NYC show coming in October.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Gypsy Schaeffer – New Album

These guys are funny: Boston quartet Gypsy Schaeffer’s website bills them as “traditional straight ahead free jazz,” wisely giving themselves license to get away with pretty much anything they want. True to its title, this is a new album, but they could have called it “good album” or even “excellent album” and they wouldn’t be overstating it. Be aware that there’s nothing remotely gypsy about this band. Trombonist/bandleader Joel Yennior is a known commodity for his innovative work with Either/Orchestra; saxist Andy Voelker leads the aptly titled Wild Sextet, the house band at popular Boston-area hotspot Matt Murphy’s Pub in Brookline. Bassist Jef Charland and drummer/author Chris Punis make a rhythm section that just jumps out at you, Charland’s strikingly melodic, terse sensibility a good match for the alternately straight-ahead and colorful stylings of Punis, riding the traps and keeping the group’s adventurous excursions from going completely off the rails. Notwithstanding all their free jazz associations, this is an often stunningly melodic album. To the band’s further credit, it’s often utterly impossible to differentiate between composition and improvisation here: the jams sound composed, and even the catchiest passages tend to fly off the page in a split-second. It’s a brightly convivial, smartly cheery ride.

 

The cd’s opening cut builds off a characteristically simple, catchy, upbeat hook over Punis’ boogie-inflected beat, everything eventually flying apart and then coming together again. The second track, Live a Little is a showcase for chemistry and how well the band listen to each other, the rhythm stepping along but not gingerly as the horns go separate but equal to a sudden, quick, catchy chorus. Yennior gets confident and bluesy, then Voelker takes it further outside as Charland fans the flames with chords, Yennior bringing it back to the head while Voelker defiantly stands upwind and continues his diatribe.

 

The wonderfully titled Grape Soda and Pretzels, a Charland composition, testifies to one of the great snack combinations with a Penny Lane feel, bass soloing deftly and minimalistically off the melody, Yennior using all of his available range, almost like a trumpeter, as is his custom. Like many of the pieces here, this one segues into the next track with slowly pacing bass and drum accents, trombone, then pensive sax and suddenly the rhythm section goes on a roll. And now they’re in the next tune, Welcome Edison, warmly exploratory over balmy sax as Punis colors it and Charland anchors it with a pretty hook. There’s another segue, into Double Quartet with some strangely muted work from Yennior, a fanfare and echoes from Voelker.

 

The catchiness returns on the swing tune Shark Tank, boisterous trombone offering hints of the blues, contrasting nicely with a minimalist Charland solo and innumerable false endings as Punis thrashes around on the ground – and finally a gorgeous horn chart out of it. It’s unclear if the next track, Exuberant Irrationalism is a political statement, but it could be, a foghorn call on the trombone to open it, bass swinging purposeful and halfspeed over a shuffle beat, scurrying along to where Voelker goes off again and Yennior responds with insistent quarter notes, pulling it all back together. After a couple more segues into contemplative, conversational rubato-land, the cd wraps up with Identity Crisis, sax squeaking playful but ever-present in the background,Yennior carrying the melody over swinging bass while Punis alternates between clearing brush and standing back watching everybody to see how much they’ve been goofing off while he’s been working hard. If you’ve made it this far, you now know much fun this band has and hopefully have a picture of how much more interesting it would actually be to put this on the ipod and give it a listen.

 

Gypsy Schaeffer are more than generous with their music, offering all sorts of free bonus tracks at their site. With all the band members busy with other gigs, there’s nothing on their live calendar at the moment: watch this space for upcoming dates. Either/Orchestra plays Regattabar in Cambridge, MA on May 1.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment