Label: Self Produced
Bridge and Tunnel; Espionage; Mobius; The Alben Triangle; Elegy for Tony Rice; Journey to Miniera; Cloud of Witnesses; International Klein Blues; To Ron.
For many guitarists, landing a gig with bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman’s groundbreaking bluegrass/jazz quintet would be the culmination of a career in music. But for Grant Gordy, it was more of a beginning, an apprenticeship in combining bluegrass and jazz that served as a launchpad for his own music. How far he has traveled since then can be heard on Peripheral Visions, his stunning new quartet recording and welcome successor to his eponymous 2010 debut.
Peripheral Visions resembles Grant Gordy in that it also features Dominick Leslie (Hawktail, the Molly Tuttle Band) on mandolin and Alex Hargreaves (Sarah Jarosz, Billy Strings), on violin, along with bassist Aidan O’Donnell, who plays with Grant in Mr Sun. And while Grant’s music is so expansive that it would be impossible to predict the sound of the new album based on the old one, there are certain characteristics of his music that are becoming clearer. For example, there’s an interplay among the instruments that sounded preternatural a dozen years ago, but now seems like the result of years of playing in the contemporary string band scene alongside people like Darol Anger, Danny Barnes, Edgar Meyer, Tony Trischka, and Joe K. Walsh, as well as his virtuosic, empathic bandmates.
Like the compositions on his debut, Grant’s pieces seem to hint at something you’ve heard before, but the influences can’t be placed because the melodies and lines are so original and integral to each composition. Besides a harmonic vision based in contemporary jazz that stretches far beyond the bounds of most contemporary string bands, Grant’s music also has a humor and grit that keep it from sounding anything like a series of theoretical treatises. “Espionage,” for example, makes the case that if some young, hip filmmaker should decide to revive the Pink Panther movies, Grant should be on the short list of possible soundtrack composers. And “International Klein Blues” demonstrates Grant’s fondness for funky blues that likely includes some of the Black string bands of the 1930s.
Another influence on Peripheral Visions is trumpeter Ron Miles’ record Rainbow Sign. “That one really hit me profoundly,” Grant says, “so much so that it became something of an inspiration for this record. Not that it’s really emulateable, but before we did the session, I asked everybody to listen to that record and I said I wanted to try to make music like that.” One result is the beautiful ballad “To Ron,” which opens with solo guitar and reminds us of Grant’s ability to play and compose stunningly beautiful music, as does his paean to the original David Grisman Quintet guitarist “Elegy for Tony Rice.” The piece on Peripheral Visions that seems to owe the most to Rainbow Sign is “Mobius,” which manages to combine the complexity implied by its title with a lyrical, almost Celtic melody.
So, what about the title? Does Peripheral Visions refer to a musical life lived on the periphery of the bluegrass and jazz scenes, neither of which have ever quite accepted the contemporary string band music practiced by musicians like Grant, Grisman, Chris Thile, Darol Anger, and others? Possibly. I prefer to think it’s a reflection of Grant’s wide vision, which not only includes a vast musical world, but also sees and hears and intuitively understands and reacts to everything going on around him, not only while he’s playing his own music, but in every musical situation. This kind of vision is rare, but it partially explains his ability to create the kind of unique, complex, witty, and gorgeous music heard on Peripheral Visions.
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About Grant Gordy
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Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson