In 1994, local jazz artist Russ Gershon was gifted an unassuming CD with a grandiose name: Ethiopian Groove: The Golden Seventies. Despite knowing little about Ethiopian music, Gershon quickly dug into the reissues of pop and jazz songs from the ’60s and ’70s. As the CD’s title suggested, those songs were recorded during the country’s musical golden age, which ended around the time Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by a communist regime that eventually shut down the thriving nightclub scene.
The Latin-influenced, pentatonic scales haunted Gershon, a Grammy-nominated arranger. Joining the growing Ethiojazz movement, he went on to compose three songs in the style for his 10-piece band, Either/Orchestra. His works got the attention of Francis Falceto, who had rescued the original recordings from war-torn Ethiopia in the ’80s. A friendship developed, and Falceto helped get Gershon to Ethiopia. “We were doing songs with an American accent,” Gershon says, “and when we went, we learned how to pronounce the words a little better.”
After two more trips to the country, Gershon premiered “Collected Unconscious,” his just-completed Ethiopian-influenced work, in New York last November. “It’s longer than a Mahler symphony, but when we played it in New York in November, nobody walked out,” Gershon says with typical humility.
On February 24, Gershon will lead the Either/Orchestra through its Boston premiere of his piece at the ICA. He and his band will also perform rarely heard selections by Nerses Nalbandian, the music director of the Haile Selassie National Theatre during the 1950s and 1960s. Expect two and a half hours of hypnotic world music performed by one of the nation’s most exciting jazz ensembles. “It’ll be a long trip,” Gershon says, “with a big payoff at the end.”
Russ Gershon and the Either/Orchestra will perform one night only at the ICA. $18, 2/24, 7:30 p.m., icaboston.org.