This interview with Gordon Grdina was conducted by email during August 2013.
Tony Reif: What was the genesis of this project? Had you and Mark ever performed together before? And what is the concept re expanding the duo, which is pretty acoustic sounding (though the guitar is your hollow body electric, isn’t it?) to a quartet with Kenton and Tony?
Gordon Grdina: Mark and I started playing together back around 2006 after I recorded the Think Like the Waves record. We played that material with Gerry Hemingway at Zebulon in Brooklyn. Since then every time I have come to NYC I have played with Mark in some capacity but mostly as a trio with Kenton Loewen. On one of our last shows as a trio Mark and I played a little duo oud and bass before the show and we both thought it would be a great idea to record some duo music. It took a while but I finally had the time and Mark was available so I started to conceptualize the recording. I felt like I wanted to add Kenton on part of it because he and Mark have a great connection through Ed Blackwell – Kenton through Ed being his biggest influence and Mark through having played with Ed for something like 15 years! When they first played together they hit it off right away. I also could hear horn on some of this music and I immediately thought ofÂ Mark and Tony’s connection in Open Loose. Their thing is real deep, and Kenton and I have been working on everything together for about 10 years, and I thought that these two things might work really well together.Â
TR: The compositions are all yours – was there ever an idea of Mark contributing pieces, or is that something that might happen later?
GG: We didn’t have a lot of time to play together for this project, which is partly why I wanted a horn player that already had a deep connection with Mark, and I was spearheading the project so I thought it would work best if one person could kind of oversee the writing and flow of the whole record. In the future I’d love to do some of Markâ€™s pieces because his writing has been a big influence on me.
TR: You decided to leave the most insanely intense quartet track from the session, “Swift and Major”, off the record. In what ways do you think of this quartet as something different than your Trio with the addition of a horn – if you do? Certainly there are still dense, fast pieces, but it seems their striving towards collective abandon is being held within fairly tight structures. There’s also one piece (“Visceral Voices”) that even swingsâ€¦
GG: This is a very different project than the trio. I wrote specifically for these musicians and what I could hear the entire group sounding like. This sounded to me like it would be a little more structured. In the trio we have worked out a way to take the littlest structure and constantly reinvent it and go in any direction at the drop of a dime. It’s the situation of less music and fewer musicians playing over many years. This quartet is the opposite situation so a little more structure was helpful I think. I found that the dynamic range of this group at the low end was quieter with the oud/bass duos and that leaving “Swift and Major” off made the whole thing flow better. I thought maybe thereâ€™s a song missing for the record to naturally flow from something as swinging and free as “Visceral Voices” to the raging “Swift and Major”. IÂ love the piece and our version of it but for the record as one whole entity it was too much.
TR: There’s also one outright experimental piece, “Cluster”, that sounds like it was created starting with oud and bass and then overdubbing with electronics. How actually was this piece put together? Is this where youâ€™re using what the credits call “bowed guitar”?
GG: “Cluster” is a melody that I had written a while back for a collaboration with my trio and Mats Gustafsson. I always heard the melody against a backdrop of soundscape which was created in the original version by bass and drums. I could hear Mark and me quietly playing the melody and improvising off of its implications but I still wanted to hear the chaos underneath. So I then overdubbed effected bowed guitar.Â
TR: The rhythm of “The Throes” is interesting – Iâ€™m counting 5/4 but it doesnâ€™t feel at all like classic Brubeck quartet 5/4.
GG: It was written more like a 10/8 Iraqi Georgina rhythm but weâ€™re playing it more like a modern 5/4 – real open and fluid swinging over the bar lines.
TR: Your guitar amp sound in the quartet pieces is quite trebly and very distorted this time out. Is that because you were recording in New York and not with your regular amp or amps, and/or were you going for something different? How important is your guitar sound to you compared with the overall group sound or what you’re playing?
GG: My guitar sound is really important to me and has changed over the years. Originally I was getting most of the high end from my guitar recorded acoustically directly and then the amp sound was very dark. This was from a love of Jim Hall and Bill Frisell and hearing my own sound through theirs. I’ve since become more interested in a brighter amp tone and distortion to create that larger sound. This came quite naturally out of trying at first to hear Wayne Shorterâ€™s music through the guitar and then later Albert Ayler. Trying to get something like their size, energy and intensity of expression. Â