Here at the very fin of the siecle, you can't place too high a premium on irony and postmodernism. The Either/Orchestra reworks the past as deftly as anyone, but also boasts an inventiveness and irresistible musical humor that keep it from suffocating under its own cleverness. Like Thad Jones on the one hand and Spike Jones on the other, this ten-piece outfit from Boston both celebrates and subtly sabotages the big-band tradition with skill, wit, and wild-man passion. It hasn't played Chicago in nearly three years, and this engagement promises more than a few surprises. Founder and leader Russ Gershon has arranged several numbers from typically far-flung sources, including a Fiona Apple song and a suite of Ethiopian pop tunes from the 70s. (These join such chestnuts in the E/O repertoire as King Crimson's "Red," Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay," and Gershon's musical impression of 30s bandleader Benny Moten waking up in the middle of a tonsillectomy and choking to death on the forceps.) In the last few months the band has also performed a rarely heard Ellington work inspired by Shakespeare--Such Suite Thunder--so presumably Gershon can call up some of that piece's individual movements. The band will have a much different look this time around: Gershon took most of last year off, then re-formed the group with no fewer than seven new members, including two bass players (one of them being former Chicagoan Atemu Aton). In fact the only old-timers that remain are trumpeter Tom Halter, saxist Charlie Kohlhase, and Gershon himself. Thank goodness they do--I'm looking forward to hearing the new guys, but the Either/Orchestra without either Gershon's Sufi soprano sax or Kohlhase's freight-train baritone would seem like a headless horseman. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Henry Cataldo.