Dec 14, 2010
-Bob Young, Boston Herald
After a thousand concerts and 25 years, Either/Orchestra founder Russ Gershon still remembers the chairs at the band’s first show.
“It was in the basement of the old (Cambridge Public) library, with a low ceiling, no PA system, no piano, and these little teeny children’s chairs that the audience was sitting in,” the bandleader and reedman said from his home in Somerville. “And it wasn’t a paying gig. But the house was full and they were very encouraging, so it was a great way to start.”
So great that Gershon and his revolving cast of big band iconoclasts have stuck with the Either/Orchestra for a quarter century, a feat they’ll celebrate Thursday at the Regent Theatre in Arlington with an anniversary blowout that will bring together more than two dozen past and present members.
Among them will be alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, pianist Leo Blanco, trombonists Curtis Hasselbring and Josh Roseman, and multiple generations of reed players, from veteran Charlie Kohlhase to 20-year-old up-and-comer Hailey Niswanger.
“I started the band when I was 26,” Gershon said. “People ask me if I thought it would last 25 years. I didn’t think the whole world would last for 25 years, but here we all are.”
Credit Gershon’s penchant for exploring the unexpected, as well as his droll sense of humor, for keeping the Either/Orchestra - also known as E/O - cooking.
“Every year we do different things,” he said. “The styles change, but the challenge of being able to imagine music, write it down and have people play it is still a complete thrill for me.”
On Thursday the audience will get a sampler of the styles Gershon has dug, and E/O has dug into - from swing, jazz fusion and funk to world music, Latin and Ethiopian. All of it will be delivered with the E/O’s avant-garde edge.
“The band’s evolution of styles has reflected my own personal interests in music,” Gershon said. “I feel like in some ways we were the canary in the coal mine for a lot of things that have happened in jazz over the last 25 years.”
That evolution can be traced on the band’s 11 albums, including its most recent, “Mood Music for Time Travellers,” on Gershon’s Accurate Records. The disc provides a taste of many of the avenues the band has traveled with their unique originals and arrangements.
“You can’t be some narrow-casting kind of person to be in Either/Orchestra,” Gershon said. “You’ve got to be ready for anything. That’s why these 25 years have been such a great adventure.”
Either/Orchestra at the Regent Theatre, Arlington, Thursday. Tickets: $25, $15 for students; 781-646-4849.