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På skive

GORDON GRDINA /MATTHEW SHIPP / MARK HELIAS || GORDON GRDINA’S NOMAD TRIO

«Pathways»
ATTABOYGIRL RECORDS, ABG-5
«Boiling Point»
ASTRAL SPIRITS, AS201

The sophomore album of the trio of Canadian guitarist and oud player Gordon Grdina with American pianist Matthew Shipp and double bass player Mark Helias, all prolific and multifaceted musicians, stresses the evolution of this trio as a collective and its flowing, creative energy since the release of its debut album Skin and Bones (NotTwo, 2019). The trio’s dynamics lead to constant role shifts and blending of the vocabularies and the sonic palettes of the guitar, oud, piano and bass, and makes this trio bigger than its parts. As always with Grdina, his guitar playing is informed by his oud playing and vice versa.

The cover of Pathways, photographed by Grdina’s partner Genevieve Monro, may draw comparisons to the spacious, reserved atmospheres of ECM’s albums. The dynamics of Grdina, Shipp and Helias tend to be contemplative, but are based on tight and dense architectures, risk-taking and often anticipating intense, fiery bursts, and never accommodating the casual listener. The nine pieces are credited to the three musicians and all are structured around improvised ideas.

«Palimpsest» and the title piece set the poetic spirit of this meeting of kindred souls. Helias’ precise bass lines sound like a twisted oud and trigger Grdina’s to extend gently his ideas with the electric guitar and to connect his guitar lines with the sparse piano playing of Shipp. The conversational, kinetic power of «Deep Play» reminisces the jazz background of these musicians and «Trimeter» and «Ossicles» highlight the rhythmic energy of this trio, letting Grdina, Shipp and Helias dance around each other, while «Synapses», with Grdina on the oud, reference the rhythmic modes of the Arabic maqam legacy. The closing piece «Sanctum», with Grdina on acoustic guitar, suggests a lyrical, irreverent atmosphere, with a beautiful, touching melody.

Boiling Point offers another of Grdina’s singular trios, this time with prolific American pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black, and it is also the sophomore album of this trio, following the self-titled debut (Skirl, 2020, and a duo album with Black, Martian Kitties, Astral Spirits, 2021). This album relies on the fast-shifting and hyperactive energies of Grdina, Mitchell and Black as well as their complex and bold dynamics – rhythmically, harmonically and melodically. Grdina said that with this trio he can «write anything».

The opening, title piece brings to mind the compositional strategies of Tim Berne, to whom Grdina dedicated his recent Oddly Enough (AttaBoyGirl, 2022), but this trio can play anything. «Parksville» relies on a tough funky pulse and «Shibuya» suggests at first the lyrical, balladic side of Nomad, later morphed into an intense, conversational interplay. «Cali-Lacs», with Grdina on the oud, introduces the Arabic maqam modes into a free jazz texture and gently establishes a driving, powerful groove. «Koen Dori» emphasizes again the deep affinity of Grdina, Mitchell and Black who shape-shifting organically between ‘in’ and ‘out’, embracing equally the melodic and the chaotic. The last «All Caps» revolves around an intoxicating rock riff, intensified by Black, who sounds all over the map, and the rhythmic pounding of Mitchell, and slowly developed as a complex jazz piece.

Eyal Hareuveni  

Gordon Grdina (el.g, ac.g, oud), Mark Helias (b), Matthew Shipp (p), Matt Mitchell (p), Jim Black (dr)

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