Skip to main content

Either/Orchestra with Mahmoud Ahmed at the Festival of Ideas Alberta Nov 15-17 2012

From guest writer Michael Davies-Venn
Either/Orchestra makes music without borders
By Michael Davies-Venn
November 15-17 2012 at the Festival of Ideas
Various locations in Edmonton, Camrose & Calgary

Either/Orchestra with Mahmoud Ahmed at the Festival of Ideas

More than a quarter of a century ago, Russ Gershon set out to help keep alive the big-band music style that had been dying in the United States since the late 1940s. It was a period marked by big brassy sounds popularized by the likes of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. But Gershon also wanted something different.

He sought to organize a group of musicians who could improvise freely—something he says traditional big-band musicians were unable to do. The group he created, which he describes as “bigger than a small band and smaller than a big band,” is aptly named the Either/Orchestra.

“It’s almost like a play, an opera,” Gershon says. “One person sings their song, another sings theirs and a combination of players respond. There are different moods, because all the players bring their own mood to a song.”

Most of the “singing” in the 10-member, Massachusetts-based jazz band is done by the instruments. But when the Either/Orchestra comes to Alberta Nov. 15 to 17 for three shows in Edmonton, Camrose and Calgary, the internationally renowned Ethiopian vocalist Mahmoud Ahmed will join in on the band’s call-and-response dynamic.

Ahmed embodies the diverse influences the Either/Orchestra will showcase during the University of Alberta’s Festival of Ideas. Unlike big bands, Gershon’s “small combo,” which gives every member a chance at soloing, culls from pop, rock and different jazz styles, such as avant garde—and adds an international flavour from the Horn of Africa.

“The Ethiopian music that I became interested in was recorded in the ‘60s, mostly in the ‘70s, and played on western instruments, the same you’d find in a jazz group,” Gershon said. “That music turned me on. I thought this is great, because I’ve been very eclectic about arranging different styles for the band. I’ve never thought that we have to only do stuff that sounds like Miles Davis from 1958.”

Today jazz is largely thought to have been created in the United States. It found its way to Ethiopia, says Gershon, mainly because that country’s emperor, Haile Selassie I, was interested in western military bands and imported western instruments and musicians to teach and lead his army band.

“Several generations of players were learning the western instruments,” he said. “After about 20 years, they started to make a fusion of Ethiopian melodies and singing with American styles. So in a sense, the Ethiopians from that point built a bridge halfway to American music because they were using some of the elements of American music as the basis of their modern music.”

Gershon says he made the other half of that connection when he took his band, which has had about 50 musicians since 1985, to Ethiopia. “It was very easy for us, as jazz musicians who are steeped in the African diaspora tradition, to meet the Ethiopians and discover what was common underneath the music from 400 years ago and even from 40 years ago.”
U of A students will benefit from those findings during a workshop in music professor Jonathan Kertzer’s West African ensemble class Nov. 16 in room 27 at the Fine Arts Building. Gershon will also speak about Ethiopian music to students in Kertzer’s African Popular Music class.

“We will play a demo concert in the workshop so students can hear the music up close, and we will talk about what we do and take some questions,” said Gershon. “It will be a semi-open rehearsal so students can see how we work on material and talk with band members who are all music teachers.”

Either/Orchestra with Mahmoud Ahmed at the Festival of Ideas


What Else Is Hot This Week?

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company Spring 2013 Toronto Performances

From a media release:

The new season brings
Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
to new heights and new audiences

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
April 25-28, 2013 - Annual Toronto Season - World Premiere of Portales

TORONTO : Following on the heels of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company's (EESDC) 30th anniversary year where its production Aguas/Waters was named one of the top five dance shows of 2012 by NOW Magazine, the early months of 2013 are full of excitement and possibility for Esmeralda and the company, which brings the finest flamenco and Spanish Classical Dance to Toronto stages.

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
Company dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés perform Spanish Classical dance with the celebrated Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for A Night in Madrid featuring the Iberian flavoured music of composer Luigi Boccherini who made his home in Spain. His work is infused with the sounds of Spanish and gypsy folk music.

March 20-24 …

Polina Semionova to Appear as Guest Artist with American Ballet Theatre

From a media release:


New York - Polina Semionova, a principal dancer with Berlin State Opera Ballet, will debut as a Guest Artist with American Ballet Theatre for the 2011 Metropolitan Opera House season, it was announced January 14, 2011 by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie. With ABT, Semionova will perform Kitri in Don Quixote at the matinee on Saturday, May 21, opposite David Hallberg as Basilio, and the dual role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake on Saturday evening, July 2, opposite Hallberg as Prince Siegfried.

Born in Moscow, Semionova studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School before joining the Berlin State Opera Ballet as the company’s youngest principal dancer. Her repertoire with Berlin State Opera Ballet includes Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, Nikiya in La Bayadère, Marie in The Nutcracker, Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Swanilda in Coppélia, Kitri in Don Quixo…

So You Can't Go: Six Ways To Travel Virtually

So You Can't Go:
Six Ways To Travel VirtuallyTravel is limited for most of us in the world these days. For Canadians, it depends on the province you live in, but with the border to the US still closed, and other options limited at best, virtual travel from the couch can provide at least a view with a difference at a time when you may well need it most. Google Cardboard – VR On A BudgetYou don't need a lot of cash to get into travel via virtual reality. Google Cardboard is a line of VR viewers that are, well, made of cardboard, and are priced starting at $12CAD.If you check out this link, you'll find out how to download the software to your smartphone.At this link, you can get yourself an actual Google Cardboard for a hands-free VR experience. Google Cardboard apps offer a variety of ways to experience our beautiful planet, including Google Earth itself, which can take you anywhere, along with apps to view museums and cultural artifacts, and more.Ascape VRAscape has a huge l…

Harlem Stage Digital Event: A Drop Of Midnight October 13 & 15 2020

From a release:Harlem Stage Digital Event:
A Drop Of Midnight
October 13 & 15 2020A two-part conversation with Jason ‘Timbuktu’ Diakité and his creative team around the developmental process of creating his autobiographical theater project, A Drop of Midnight. In this conversation Jason will take us on his journey to becoming one of Sweden’s chart-topping hip-hop artists and a best-selling author. He’ll also share the story of how a mixtape from Brooklyn traveled across the waters to the tiny village of Lund, Sweden and altered the course of his life forever. We will examine the impact of hip hop music and culture on the globe. How has hip-hop united communities of color globally?  How do you translate a personal story into a universal truth? How do you build a creative team? How has the current climate of social justice informed your artistic practice? Jason will read excerpts from the play and share some of the music. October 13—Part IIn this conversation A Drop of Midnight author…

Blues/Rock: The Cole Patenaude Band - Are You Happy Now? (Independent / 24 July 2020)

The Cole Patenaude Band - Are You Happy Now?
(Independent / 24 July 2020) Buy the CD Big vocals and infectious grooves make up this release from The Cole Patenaude Band. It's modern blues with a classic sensibility, anchored by solid musicianship and upbeat songwriting. 
Keyboard player Dean Thiessen and Patenaude on guitar trade off solos and melodic lines to keep it interesting through a range of bluesy style, incorporating rock and country, with a pop song sheen on songs like For the Money. Would You Be Mine is more Elvis-esque rockabilly, while How To Love is an acoustic song with folky storytelling lyrics and feel. 
Compromise is a standout track, with a snarly guitar line and a churchy organ swelling underneath a nice bluesy beat. Horns aren't credited in the notes, but I swear I heard some on this and a couple of the other tracks. 
As a husband, father, and full-time mechanic based in Langley, British Columbia, finding the time to make his music was a challenge…