Gordon Grdina Quartet

Inroads
Songlines SGL 1624-2

By Ken Waxman

Moving away from his earlier, more hushed and ethnically tinged chamber music, Vancouver guitarist/oudist Gordon Grdina enlists a trio of New Yorkers to toughen his sound while maintaining its fluidity. Inroads’ nine tracks find keyboardist Russ Losing frequently elaborating themes in double counterpoint with Grdina’s pointed strumming; clarinetist/alto saxophonist Oscar Noriega challenging the narratives with penetrating inflections, or spanning them with rumbling bass clarinet undercurrents; while drummer Satoshi Takeishi propels forwards the sometimes idiosyncratic rhythms. Although Losing’s electric piano splashes and Takeishi’s focused rebounds are extensively showcased on “Apocalympics” in speedy unison with near-flamenco guitar picking, their contributions throughout mostly solidify the group sound.

Prime instances of this are “Not Sure” and “Fragments”. The former boomerangs from a staccato clarinet/guitar introduction to a mid-section of moody reed lows and melancholy quivering guitar strings, and ends with kinetic rubs and squeaks from all four, even as alternating motifs propel low-key swing. Grdina’s obvious oud-elaboration on “Fragments” ignores ersatz middle-eastern inflections for string-ticking counterpoint with Losing’s sinewy piano chording. Aided by tongue flutters from Noriega, the narrative slithers to a finale that’s completely distinctive, since the tremolo modulations include a consistently rhythmic, but untraditional role for the oud.

The session’s tracks also expose strategies that take in techniques ranging from raucous guitar string buzzes to reflective finger-picked balladry, plus coloratura peeps, tongue slaps or comforting chalumeau slurs from Noriega’s reed collection. With the sounds low key enough to be relaxed, but never sedating, and energetic enough to be exciting without belaboring rhythm, timbre or melody, the inroads made here are to describe the contours of proficient memorable group sounds.

-A MusicWorks.ca exclusive Review Spotlight