Gordon Grdina / Mark Helias
Vancouver-based guitarist and oud player Gordon Grdina has been involved in many collaborations with creative improvisers, including Mats Gustafsson, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Samuel Blaser, Jerry Granelli, Han Bennink, Gerry Hemingway, Andy Milne, Eyvind Kang, and Gary Peacock, his early mentor and member of Grdina’s Think Like the Waves trio along with Paul Motian (Songlines, 2006). His association with Mark Helias goes back to that time, and since then they’ve performed every time Grdina has come to New York, mostly as a trio with Kenton Loewen, Grdina’s longtime drummer in his regular trio and in Grdina’s Arabic-avant-garde 10-piece Haram (Songlines, 2012). Gord takes up the story: “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… 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 of 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.” In June 2012 they went into the studio for a day and played a gig at ShapeShifter Lab (the recording includes two live duo tracks).
The pieces, all Grdina’s, range from searching, delicate duos on oud or guitar to denser, more energetic guitar quartet tracks, where a striving towards collective abandon is held within fairly tight structures, at least compared to the explosive, noise-drenched Gord Grdina Trio: “I wrote specifically for these musicians and what I could hear the entire group sounding like. 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. The quartet is the opposite situation.” So “Visceral Voices” is both free and swinging. “The Throes” has a dark melodic/harmonic language and 5/4 lope reminiscent of certain tunes from Think Like the Waves, but the treatment is somehow more rooted, a melancholy introspection tempered by the group’s buoyant togetherness. Also notable are the tender ballad “Nayeli Joon” (named after Grdina’s daughter) and the experimental “Cluster”, where the duo quietly plays the melody and improvises off it against an overdubbed backdrop chaos of effected bowed guitar.
Grdina’s oud provides an Arabic flavor to some of the duos, giving the record a subtle world-music dimension. His guitar sound has evolved over time: “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 Shorter’s music through the guitar and then later Albert Ayler. Trying to get something like their size, energy and intensity of expression.”