Either/Orchestra | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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For 15 years Boston's Either/Orchestra--the little big band led by reedist and arranger Russ Gershon--has maintained a repertoire as clever as its name, ranging from Duke Ellington to Charles Mingus to Frank Zappa to Fiona Apple and including a slew of originals that simultaneously celebrate and satirize most of the music in the known universe. Until the mid-90s, the band also copped an artistic attitude perfect for the Ironic Age, and it retained a relatively steady lineup built around idiosyncratic soloists who could invest even the ensemble playing with mischievous humor. But the Either/Orchestra's last full studio album was recorded in 1993; at a Chicago gig last spring Gershon unveiled an overhauled band, the result of various defections and his own restlessness. This transitional E/O looked and sounded like a summer-camp outing, with a troop of seven talented twentysomethings chaperoned by the three remaining original members (Gershon, trumpeter Tom Halter, and searing baritone and alto saxist Charlie Kohlhase). But despite some rough moments, their sets had spark. The younger players don't suffocate the material's goofy wit, but they do treat it with something like reverence--many of them listened to this band during their own formative years. Maybe this means that irony's going out of fashion; maybe it just comes from the different perspective the younger players bring to the multifaceted arrangements. Either way, this blunting of the band's ironic edge ought to pay off in the next decade, once the millennial bubble has burst; think of the restructuring as Gershon's musical attempt at Y2K compliance. In any case, the Either/Orchestra will almost certainly have jelled since its last visit: Gershon is too thoughtful a musician and, for all his zaniness, too much of a perfectionist to demand any less. 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.

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