Since his 2006 debut, Think Like the Waves with jazz greats Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, Vancouver guitarist Gordon Grdina has pursued multiple musical paths, setting his guitar amidst his jazz-based ensembles, the classically influenced third stream music of the East Van Strings or Dan Mangan’s rock band, while concurrently exploring the oud, a Middle Eastern lute, in both traditional and contemporary applications. Inroads summarizes and synthesizes that decade of exploration, while presenting Grdina in a stellar group of New York-based musicians: Oscar Noriega on alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Russ Lossing on piano and electric piano; and Satoshi Takeishi on drums.
Grdina’s disparate influences here range through Béla Bartók, the rock band Soundgarden and free jazz, while his compositions pass through divergent moods, densities and methodologies. The opening Giggles is limpidly beautiful unaccompanied piano, while Not Sure is chameleon-like, moving from rapid-fire guitar aggression through lyrical piano and alto saxophone passages and then on to thrashing drums and howling saxophone, presenting many of Grdina’s elements in a single piece.
Some of the most affecting pieces are also models of brevity. Kite Flight is a tantalizing explosion of lower register guitar, raucous bass clarinet and elemental percussion, while Semantics, a guitar/clarinet duet, is subtly evanescent. That same delicacy informs the longer Fragments in its blend of piano and oud, while contrasting Middle Eastern elements energize Apocalympics. It’s a fascinating program in which Grdina takes his materials in very different directions.