Jazz music, news and views

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Either/Orchestra in Ethiopia

Fans of adventurous big band sounds will appreciate the tentet Either/Orchestra, and their new album, Ethiopiques 20: Live in Addis, deservedly boosts their profile on an international scale. Fronted by tenorist, composer, arranger and Accurate Records label-owner Russ Gershon, E/O boasts a dark, burnished collective timbre that reminds us of the deep, primal sounds large ensembles are capable of. The spirits of Monk, Ellington and Mingus are woven into the band’s sonic and compositional fabric, but its relatively young, forward-thinking members give it a challenging, modern allure. This group has served as an incubator of some highly acclaimed “newcomers” recently rising to fame (Miguel Zenon, John Medeski, Josh Roseman, Matt Wilson), Formed in 1985, E/O is enjoying its 20th year of gorgeously heavy harmonies and creative vanguardism. Now, why is their newest release recorded almost halfway across the world?

As explained in the album’s liner notes, Ethiopian popular music in the mid-1960s to ‘70s was at a peak; catchy, exotic horn arrangements and rootsy vocals were hallmarks of the style. The country’s capital, Addis Ababa, was the nucleus of the movement but the city’s nightlife, and therefore, musical culture, was stunted by the Dergue which deposed Haile Selassie in 1974. Ethiopian music certainly got back on its feet (in fact, Live in Addis is released on Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques series, which has reissued some of the albums from the music’s most fertile period), but there may be the feeling that their “golden age” has passed. It may, however, enjoy a renaissance now, thirty years later, and Either/Orchestra may be a part of it. In early 2004, E/O was invited to Ethiopia for a series of concerts and master-classes. It was the first time an American big band has performed in Ethiopia since Duke Ellington’s band in 1973.

E/O explores some beautiful territory here, giving popular Ethiopian songs a modern twist. While some of the music was written specifically for the visit, many of the charts are taken from their earlier discography. More Beautiful Than Death, recorded in 2000, has three songs that reappear on Live in Addis – tunes penned by Ethiopian songsters and deftly arranged by Gershon. Nice lengthy tracks, ferocious live performance, new sounds and reliable talent – check it out!

Free download of "Yezamed Yebada" from allaboutjazz.com.

Buy the double-disc Ethiopiques 20: Live in Addis.

Or buy their most recent studio release, Neo-Modernism.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Jonathan Kreisberg

This year, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg has released two stellar new albums, both of which will hopefully get him the attention his talent deserves. This NYC native was educated at University of Miami and spent some time touring the East Coast before returning to his hometown. A relatively young player of eclectic experience, his past projects range from his prog rock group, Third Wish, to electric jazz, to 20th Century classical works with the New World Symphony. Throughout, he's developed some formidable jazz chops and currently holds court each Wednesday at La Lanterna di Vittorio in Greenwich Village. Kreisberg has a keen, edgy compositional style but never fails to show us the music in his high-octane licks. Great tunes, chops galore and a beautifully warm, clean, modern tone.

New For Now features Hammond B3-ist Gary Versace and drummer Mark Ferber. The trio has tremendous drive and interplay! Buy New For Now here.

Unearth is released on the newly launched Mel Bay Records (the same company that brought you the instrumental method books!). Trumpeter Scott Wendholt is a killer soloist, and Aaron Goldberg on Rhodes gives the disc that perfect contemporary touch. Buy Unearth here.
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