Gordon Grdina Quartet - Inroads

Label: Songlines, 2017

Lineup - Gordon Grdina: guitar, oud; Oscar Noriega: alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Russ Lossing: piano, Fender Rhodes; Satoshi Takeishi: drums.

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If you feel like listening to something atypical, something that organically blends creative jazz, free-form improvisation, and Arabic classical music, go for the Vancouver-based guitarist/oud player/composer Gordon Grdina. Inroads finds this innovator teaming up with the visionary multi-reedist Oscar Noriega, consolidated pianist Russ Lossing, and multi-tasking percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. And I have to tell that this bass-less quartet sounds amazing. 

Surprisingly, the record opens with a brilliantly executed solo piano piece entitled “Giggles”, whose affectionate, oneiric ways captivated me instantaneously. The second version of this piece, “Giggles II”, closes the album like a spacious tone poem generated by the complemented lyricism of guitar and piano, and accompanied at some point by a brief, considerate, and never-intrusive percussive fondling.

Rambling like a taut folk dance, “Not Sure” mirrors indecision (so, good title!) about where to land, but all the passages probed by the quartet feel engrossingly connected. The journey includes animated guitar-clarinet polyphonies, followed by Lossing’s lofty solo over a distorted guitar groove. Meddling written passages anticipate moments of sheer abstraction, some of them intense, other even-tempered. The final three minutes of this piece are simply marvelous, having piercing saxophone shrieks and incisive melodic bursts implanted into a massively noisy wall of distortion erected with gutsy impetuosity.

Piano and Fender Rhodes merge as one to bring “P.B.S.” into life. Simultaneously roving and complex, this composition also embraces experimentation, feeling pretty much stately in its rock-inflected conclusion. This posture has a total discrepancy with the one adopted on “Fragments”, a still-explorative yet balmy meditation where we may indulge in the sentimental exoticism of the oud. The bandleader, a confessed adept of Hamas Aldine and Rabih Abou Khalil, interacts with Lossing, combining cleverness and pathos to create wistful cadenced movements that get deeper in plangency with the addition of bass clarinet. 

Noriega makes use of the hollowness of this beautiful instrument again on “Kite Flight”, a two-minute juxtaposition of free thoughts he co-wrote and exchanged with the guitarist.

The modernistic, Eastern-tinged “Apocalympics” starts with a pure guitar sound before allowing the clarinetist to phrase his ideas. He does it with wails and warbles, flying high above the supple yet rugged sonic textures. The outstanding control and temporal poise of Takeishi’s drumming takes further expression throughout his improvised stretch.

Grdina distills his music with lancinating virtuosity and deft narrative arc, integrating avant-jazz and world fusion with savoir-faire. Consequently, Inroads feels like a multicultural hymn to spontaneous creativity.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Giggles ► 02 - Not Sure ► 03 - P.B.S.