Either/Orchestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Either/Orchestra 

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Those taking the easy way out usually describe the Either/Orchestra by lists of, and comparisons to, its heroes and influences--which can either impress or daunt, given that the group's far-flung repertoire encompasses reworked pieces by Charles Mingus, Bobbie Gentry, Miles Davis, Robert Fripp, and Roscoe Mitchell. While such lists suggest the postmodernism of this scale-model Boston big band that thinks like a combo, they fail to express the nature of its performances--wildly humorous, unfailingly propulsive--or the luminously clever way founder-leader-saxophonist Russ Gershon ties up the whole package. Gershon's musical wit invites but does not require musical gamesmanship. For instance, listeners who recognize his recent piece called "Bennie Moten's Weird Nightmare" as a minor-key fantasy on the sunny "Moten Stomp" (from 1931) will get an extra tickle, but those in the dark have no trouble enjoying the sheer, macabre exuberance of the composition. This should not suggest a latter-day Spike Jones; that element exists, but not at the expense of grand ensemble writing and several star soloists. Yet the Either/Orchestra can't suppress a mischievous glint on even relatively straightforward arrangements of jazz classics--which manage to simultaneously celebrate and subtly undermine the big-band tradition. Friday, 8:30 and 10:30 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334. (This writer will introduce the bond on behalf of welcoming station WBEZ FM.)

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