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Gordon Grdina: Intuitive Idiosyncrasy


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Prolific as is Gordon Grdina, he never falls prey to pointless repetition. When the Canadian multi-instrumentalist/composer/bandleader does deign to return to familiar realms, it's with a purpose, so he and his collaborators all bring fresh viewpoints and open minds in order to nurture that spirit of the moment air of continuous surprise. And Grdina relishes the intimate direct communication available in a small combo as much as the more expansive multi-leveled dialogues available in a large(r) ensemble. Thus, it's only natural the Canadian iconoclast would return to the triumvirate that is Nomad Trio wherein he can interact as fully and completely as he does in his alliance with bassist Mark Helias and pianist Matthew Shipp. But the creativity is no less discerning in those intimate affairs—or in dual alliance by proxy with kindred spirit saxophonist/composer Tim Berne—than in the expansive Haram outfit. Finely-honed technique and simpatico earmark these efforts as fully and completely as any of the many others issued under Gordon Grdina's name in recent years.

Gordon Grdina's Haram with Marc Ribot
Night's Quietest Moment
ABG Records

Incongruous as it may sound, this effort of Gordon Grdina's eleven-piece ensemble, aided and abetted by his kindred spirit, guitarist Marc Ribot, is dance music of the most deceptively insinuating sort. As deceptively understated a set (or more so) than its immediate companion pieces, the intensity grows almost imperceptibly during numbers like the traditional "Lamma Bada Yatathanna (When She Begins To Sway)." Meanwhile, the overlay of free-playing on top of repetitive progressions only heightens the cumulative momentum: as vaguely familiar as such material might sound, the inevitable denouements still deliver formidable impact based on the unexpected route(s) the musicians take to arrive at those denouements. The mix of acoustic and electric instruments, combined with horns and percussion (plus voices that help pace this forty-eight some minutes) ultimately render the listening experience that much more tantalizing, not to mention satisfying.

Gordon Grdina
The Music of Tim Berne: Oddly Enough
ABG Records

Heady stuff of a much different sort, the collection of recordings is based on a pandemic back-and-forth between Grdina and the audacious saxophonist/composer. And the Vancouver-based stringed-instrument wizard and composer was so inspired he designed a new guitar during the course of which gestation: such is the intricate yet oblique interweaving of timbres on "Pliant Squids," for example, that the more caustic layering of the title track sounds as if it were the dense source matter from which the subsequent cuts were distilled. Gordon Grdina credits Tim Berne with creating his own sense of logic—as much in evidence in this cover art as the music behind it—but that is, in fact, where these two idiosyncratic musicians find the common thread in their creative instincts and the pursuits that arise therefrom.

Gordon Grdina/Mark Helias/Matthew Shipp
ABG Records

In a drummer-less configuration such as this, it's all the more crucial for the musicians involved to be cognizant of who among them (if any) are providing the bedrock beat, not to mention the melodic lead. The shared instincts of these three are so acute, the assumption and transition of those respective roles is almost subliminal, both within a specific cut like "Deep Dive," or across the spectrum of the nine here. The titular leader is sufficiently gracious to defer to his collaborators as often as not, which makes for a balanced output all around, over and above the group-composed material like this title song. Once immersed in this roughly forty-nine minute collaboration, it is a joyful noise indeed, its slow but purposeful instrumental exploration(s) indicative of the intelligence of its three participants.

Gordon Grdina's Nomad Trio
Boiling Point
Astral Spirits

These forty-eight plus minutes come wrapped in cover images by Jaime Zuversa that mirror the threesome's angular navigations of the leader's compositions via his guitar and oud, {Matt Mitchell}}'s piano and Jim Black's drums. Like "Parksville," the changes and progressions are much like those of free improvisation, open to interpretation in the most positive definition of ambiguity. As a result, centering the longest pair of cuts (at ten-plus and twelve-plus minutes respectively) between two each of roughly half that length imparts a symmetry to the album further structuring the listening experience. Infusing this effort with such subtle accessibility is the contrast of the leader's acoustic and electric instruments, fully captured in the recording, mixing and mastering of the sound by Marc Urselli: this optimum audio only makes the prospect of repeated listenings that much more inviting.

Tracks and Personnel

Night's Quietest Hour

Tracks: Longa Nahawand; Sala Min Shaaraha A-Thahab (Gold Streamed Down from Her Hair) Dulab Bayati; Lamma Bada Yatathanna (When She Begins to Sway); Hawj Erreeh. (Violent Wind).

Personnel: Gordon Grdina: oud; Marc Ribot: guitar; Emad Armoush: vocals, ney; Tim Gerwing: darbuka; Liam MacDonal: riq; Francois Houle: clarinet; Christopher Kelly: sax; JP Carter: trumpet; Josh Zubot: violin; Jesse Zubot: violin; Tommy Babin: bass; Kenton Loewen: drums.

The Music of Tim Berne: Oddly Enough

Tracks: Oddly Enough; I Don't Use Hair Products; Trauma One; Lost in Redding; Enord Krad; Snippet; Pliant Squids.

Personnel: Gordon Grdina: electric/Midi guitar, classical guitar, acoustic guitar, oud, dobro.


Tracks: Palimpsest; Deep Dive; Pathways; Trimeter; Amalgam; Flutter; Ossicles; Synapses; Sanctum.

Personnel: Gordon Grdina: guitar, oud; Mark Helias; bass; Matthew Shipp; piano.

Boiling Point

Tracks: Boiling Point; Parksville; Shibuya; Cali-lacs; Koen Dori; All Caps.

Personnel: Gordon Grdina: guitar, oud; Matt Mitchell piano; Jim Black: drums.

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Two Centuries



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