Gordon Grdina, guitarist and oud player, has cranked things up into high gear in terms of CD release productivity. This is a good thing. When artists regularly release albumstwo to four or five or six a year, which was common during Blue Note Records' heyday in the late 1950s and early 60stheir artistry evolves more quickly. Grdina, at the halfway mark of 2022, has already offered up four albums for the year, an output that has lifted his artistry into the realm of distinctive creativity and excellence. This 2022 journey began with Oddly Enough: The Music Of Tim Berne
, a solo affair on the artist's own Attaboygirl Records. Pathways
, another Attaboygirl release, is a trio outing featuring Grdina alongside pianist Matthew Shipp
and bassist Mark Helias
. All three players boast high profiles in the avant-garde arena. They could be tagged as all-stars, Here, they show no all-star egos. The players meld into a cohesive whole on nine adventurous tunes. Succinct in their way everything clocks in at the four to eight minute rangewith a consistency of mood and purpose, that exudes freedom and risk-taking while embracing accessibility, occasional grooves and a unique approach to interplay.
Free jazz with Middle-Eastern motifs are here, as are loose interludes from Shipp that seem to nod to Cecil Taylor
at times, tangled up with Grdina's strikingly pungent, sometimes prickly guitar and oud playing, held together by the glue of Helias' muscular bass. Throw in moments of wildness that avoid anarchy (maybe it is the bass) alongside pensive reveries that delve into deep deliberations.
Shipp is a versatile player with a long record (on record and off) of collaboration. He seems to fit into any ensemble, oftimes not sounding quite Matthew Shipp-likejudged from albums under his own name.
The tunes are all credited, compositionally, to all three players, meaning, almost certainly, that this is a three-way improvisation outing. Sit down and see what happens. Sometimes, no matter the skills and intentions of the players involved, such freewheeling outings swing and miss. This one hits, hard and far. Grdina's year-opening Oddly Enough: The Music Of Tim Berne
set off the radar for a spot on the Year's Best Jazz Albums' lists. Pathways
, free jazz with a finely-focused vision, raises that flag again, and waves it around.
With the focus of purpose, his cohesion of artistic vision and his drive to put out lots of excellent music that is idiosyncratically his own, Grdina may have what it takes to move into the top spots of jazz guitar players, alongside Pat Metheny
, Bill Frisell
and John Scofield
. He is on the young side at this point, but time will tell.
Gordon Grdina: guitar.
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