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Dálava, Gordon Grdina and Mikkel Ploug: Songs Old, and Sounds New

Mark Werlin By

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In an interview posted on the Songlines website, Grdina describes "Fragments"—the only track on which he performs on the oud—as a clash of ideologies, an encounter between the oud, a Middle Eastern plucked string instrument, and the grand piano, epitome of Western musical culture. Under the fingers of pianist Russ Lossing, the East/West cultural divide disappears. Lossing's use of strummed piano strings and rapid arpeggio phrases perfectly complements the oud's pizzicato attack. Oscar Noriega contributes low-register counter-melodies on the bass clarinet that build into a haunting unaccompanied solo, as the other instruments drop away.

Gordon Grdina has appeared on six hi-res releases from the Songlines label, no two of which are very similar in style or presentation, including Think Like the Waves, a trio session recorded in 2006 with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian on which Grdina plays electric guitar and oud, and the group improvised session Ghostlights with Francois Houle, Benoit Delbecq and Kenton Loewen.

His collaborators on Inroads are among the most respected players in the contemporary New York jazz scene. Pianist Russ Lossing has recorded several albums as a leader for the Swiss label HatOLOGY. Drum Music, a solo piano performance of music composed by Paul Motian, with whom Lossing played for 12 years, earned high praise from jazz publications and from Lossing's peers. Multi-reeds player Oscar Noriega is a regular member of Tim Berne's Snake Oil project. He's a fluent saxophonist, and projects a beautiful bass clarinet sound over the entire range of the instrument. Satoshi Takeishi's credits fill several pages on All Music—he's a very in-demand drummer. On Inroads he adeptly follows the shifting course of the musical stream, always playing the right accompaniment at the right time. It's not every drummer who can shift modes between the free-time poetry of Paul Motian and the prog rock polyrhythms of Bill Bruford.

Those who are familiar with Gordon Grdina's earlier albums, and those who have not yet discovered his work alike will find much to enjoy in this release. Audio quality is equal to the best of Songlines' hi-res albums.

Track Listing: Giggles; Not Sure; P.B.S.; Semantics; Fragments; Casper; Kite Fight; Apocalympics; Giggles II

Personnel: Gordon Grdina, guitar, oud; Oscar Noriega, alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Russ Lossing, piano, Rhodes; Satoshi Takeishi, drums

Format: 24/96 hi-res download

Mikkel Ploug: Alleviation

Songlines' 2017 releases highlight the guitar, with two albums featuring Gordon Grdina, Ghostlights and Inroads, and Aram Bajakian a prominent presence on The Book of Transfigurations. As different as these albums are, they share in common the role of the guitarist as one voice among musical equals.

On Alleviation, Danish composer/electric guitarist Mikkel Ploug undertakes an entirely different task: a set of solo acoustic guitar compositions with influences ranging from folk fingerpicking to traditional Danish church hymns; from post-War European classical to American minimalist styles. What makes the set sound so distinctive is the choice of instrument: a 70 year-old vintage Gibson. At a glance, the project might seem like a mismatch of nationalities and idioms, but it's one of the most intriguing and best-recorded acoustic guitar albums of recent years.

Mikkel Ploug acquired a circa 1942-1945 Gibson Banner LG-2 following a visit to New York. After practicing for several months, he noticed that the sound and feel of the instrument was, in a sense, guiding the direction of his compositions: "The guitar would push me around stylistically—sometimes ask me to include less notes in a voicing or more open strings, and just opened up new fields of inspiration... a melodic or harmonic concept like on 'Couleurs d'Olivier,' a composition based on Messiaen's modes of limited transposition. 'Circle Wind' is written with Steve Reich's repetitive work in mind."

The handsome PDF booklet that accompanies the download includes striking color and sepia tone images by photographer Frida Gregersen of the LG-2, a guitar whose history is written into its aged and mottled finish. Engineer Mads Brinch Nielsen carefully recorded Ploug with ribbon mics in a warm wooden room that provides a natural acoustic "glow."

Winter is an introspective time of year. Alleviation is an album made for quiet reflection during the long nights. Mute the iPhone... ignore incoming texts... turn down the lights... listen... The hard work that preceded the recording session now becomes apparent. That the playing sounds so unhurriedly confident testifies to Mikkel Ploug's gift for accommodating his compositional technique to the limitations —and strengths—of an unfamiliar instrument: the collision of time signature and subdivided beats on the title track "Alleviation"; a suggestion of half-remembered melodies in "Couleurs d'Olivier"; the subtle, but unnerving caesurae on "Gruntvig Reflections."

Where so many guitarists fall back on bravura displays of technique, Mikkel Ploug treads an alternative path, one where virtuosity is subsumed to the greater aim of tone production and care in shaping the form of compositions. Alleviation is a work of outstanding musicianship, and a gesture of respect for the unknown guitar makers at the Michigan factory who built an instrument that was good enough to bear the Gibson name 70 years ago, and that still speaks to us today.

Track Listings: Night Space; Florescence; With Open Arms ; Arabesque; Circle Wind ; Einer; Couleurs d'Olivier; Safari; Grundtvig Reflections; Luminous; Alleviation; Overseas; Road Trip

Personnel: Mikkel Ploug, acoustic guitar, compositions

Format: 24/192 hi-res download

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