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På skive



«Klotski» is a sliding block puzzle and is also a perfect title for the new album of Canadian prolific guitarist-oud player Gordon Grdina’s Square Peg, a quartet with New York’s downtown scene violist Mat Maneri and bassist-Moog synth player Shahzad Ismaily and German drummer Christian Lillinger. This quartet recorded before a live album, «The ‘Live At The White Room’ Sessions» (The Black Dot, 2019), and the new one was recorded at Afterlife studio in Vancouver, and with the solo album, «Pendulum», are the first recordings on Grdina’s label Attaboygirl Records, created with his partner, photographer and visual artist Genevieve Monro.

Grdina penned eight modular compositions for Square Peg that fit together like sonic puzzles, blurring the lines between the written and the spontaneous collective improvisations. Grdina’s loose adaption of Middle-Eastern scales, with its quarter notes and his affinity for nuances of pitch, correspond beautifully with Maneri’s distinctive blending of jazz and microtonal music, relying too on quarter notes. Grdina and Maneri developed an immediate, intimate language and an almost telepathic interplay, and often both sound as one sonic entity, as on the lyrical «Bacchic Barge», the mournful and dramatic «Suffer City» and the playful «Joy Ride» that borrows West-African call-and-response patterns. Ismaily and Lillinger offer a flexible and light rhythm section that expands and colors the conversational dynamics of Grdina and Maneri. Ismaily’s playing of the Moog synth adds a vintage, otherworldly aroma to these mysterious, vivid puzzles.

«Pendulum» is another perfect title that captures the essence of  Grdina’s third solo album. This album highlights the nuanced, pendulum-like ways that his playing of the oud and his mastery of the Arabic maqams feeds his classical guitar playing and vice versa, and all together define his own, open and inclusive language. Therefore, the atmosphere of this chamber album is introspective and reflexive, stressing Grdina’s refined, poetic playing and a strong sense of vulnerability. Grdina’s playing of the classical guitar allows him to explore dissonant harmonies and unique timbres by playing without a pick, using only his fingers.

The opening piece for classical guitar, «Koen Dori» was originally was written in Tokyo for a quartet with Japanese musicians Michiyo Yagi, Tamaya Honda and Koichi Makagami, and recorded by Nomad Trio with Matt Mitchell and Jim Black («Nomad», Skirl, 2020). The oud piece «Wayward» was originally written for Grdina’s The Marrow quartet with double bass player Mark Helias, cellist Hank Roberts and percussionist Hamin Honari («Ejdeha», Songline, 2020. Both pieces suggest, each in its own special way, the free-shifting as well as the rich and imaginative voice of Grdina. The last piece, «Always Been The Song II», is an exception here and sounds like a beautiful folk song.

Eyal Hareuveni 

Gordon Grdina (el.g, cl.g, oud), Mat Maneri (viola), Shahzad Ismaily (b, Moog synth), Christian Lillinger (dr)

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