The Either / Orchestra, directed and based through saxophonist Russ gershon, played friday next to singer Teshome Mitiku in Distler performance hall at Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center. This concert was an excellent testament to the value of multiculturalism in music; in the wake of the globalization movements of the twentieth century, musical purism and musical multiculturalism have been subjects of debate. Music purists generally take a stand against mixing musical styles and prefer to keep musical genres separate. Supporters of multiculturalism in music are more likely to support the fusion of styles. The Either / Orchestra performs music from many different traditions; in this particular performance, elements of jazz, American pop and traditional Ethiopian music have been mixed together to create a completely new sound.
Initially of Ethiopia, Mitiku is no stranger to the effects of globalization on music. He tenuous a leading role in a wave of American influence groups in Ethiopia during the 1960s, and he sung with the Haile Selassie Theater Orchestra, a set similar to a American “big band”. In his performance with the Either / Orchestra, Mitiku sang traditional arrangements Ethiopian songs as well as some more recent works, of them which were his own compositions. All but one songs performed were in amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Some characteristics of the voice were unlike anything heard in standard and tone Western music, including micro-tones and melismatic passages, all of which were performed by Mitiku with precision and know-how. Beside these traditional elements, Featured Miktiku’s Voice many distinctive features of Jazz and American pop music. Jazz chord progressions and pentatonic modes often supported the traditional voice in a harmonious juxtaposition that served as an auditory plea for the globalization of music.
The merger of jazz, popular music and traditional Ethiopian music contributed to a unique timbre, or sonic texture, of this performance. The layering of instruments that are traditionally found in jazz orchestras – namely the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano, double bass and drums – with the conga drums and singer sing in a Ethiopian style, produces a sound different from that of any traditional musical ensemble. Despite this iniquitous mix of instruments, the careful arrangements, numerous which were made by Gershon, emphasized the versatility of musicians’ ability to mix these various sounds.
Gershonthe provisions of the Ethiopian the works certainly retained traditional melodic characteristics, but also remained faithful to many counter-melodic and harmonic elements of the traditional song. The works performed were incredibly reactionary; instead of strict metric constraints, musicians often played against each other. Synchronization between two percussionists, Brooke Sofferman (drums) and Vicente Lebron (congas), accentuated their ability to mix instruments with incredibly different sounds as well as their ability to weave rhythms into a complex structure that served as the basis for the whole ensemble.
In addition to the rich aural dimension of the performance, visual aspect of the concert was important to the spectator experience. The natural ebb and flow of the movements of the whole as well as the visual connections they have formed with each other on stage highlighted the complexity of the orchestrations and the performers’ passion for this music. Improvised solo interludes were appearing in numerous works, of which each introduced another member of the ensemble. It is in these improvised sections that the musicians were able, literally, to play thoroughly. Members of the public were encouraged for clapping or singing in multiple pieces, enhancing the listening experience.
Thanks to Gershonthe dispositions and the will of the Either / Orchestra to tackle a somewhat unorthodox and fabricated musical genre, the ensemble has managed to achieve a depth and sonic coherence that can only be created when each musician realizes the interdependence of the ensemble. Each instrument played a role in the arrangements, and the interdependence of all has proven that instruments that are not traditionally in an ensemble can, when carefully organized, help others to form a deep sound.