You can tell that guitarist Gordon Grdina does not perceive music through a guitarist's eyes solely. The tunes on Unlearn, with his group Box Cutter, seem formed from deeply collaborative ideas, with considerable importance placed on the contribution of each player and a great regard for their respective instruments.
Musicianship on the album is grand and the personalities that emerge amusing. They're coy, brisk and unstoppable on the opening track "Titlewave. Grdina proves he's got lots of energy and can flitter his way around his instrument no problem, while Karlis Silins on bass does acrobatics around him, provoking him into a rhythmic jostle. The clarinet, played by François Houle, teases with all sorts of wacky antics, as when a series of ascending notes goes warbling into center stage, while drummer Kenton Loewen keeps the rhythm rolling and allows this combination to make a lot of sense.
Throughout the album, energies shift without warning. A quirky ramble on one track will give way to a rocking jaunt on the next, which then makes room for a sensitive saunter on another. Short, frantic notes dissipate, clearing the way for something a bit more meaningful, something that has allowed for breaths to be taken, like "Pads. Houle harmonizes with himself, playing equally long, tender notes from two clarinets simultaneously, while Loewen crashes his cymbal again and again making the space shudder with metallic waves. Over it all Grdina falls into a lovely parlance with what sounds like a classical guitar; seemingly unaware of what's going on around him, he romances the instrument, touching mildly on the Arabic melodies he has become so expert in and which he normally plays on the oud.
A few tunes, particularly "Albert The Monk and "Soul Suite, recall the dusty American byways. Houle's clarinet takes on a soulful air on the latter, playing a melody weighted with worries of the past and sweetly uplifted by optimistic acoustic guitar and drums.
The group plays around with sound quite a bit on Unlearn, encouraging their instruments to do more than the standard. But there's still a sense of something mustering, yet not quite realized. The last track "Platform provides a glimpse into what this group could be as they venture tepidly into more exploratory realms. It's a fitting title for a tune played by a group that has something quite solid underfoot.
Titlewave; Cworky; Kenton & I; Pads; Say; Distant; Origin; Soul Suite; Albert the Monk; Platform.
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