Gordon Grdina & Mark Helias – “No Difference”


Gordon Grdina - "No Difference"An album that I find myself increasingly called back to is the new release by guitarist Gordon Grdina, titled No Difference.  He shares top billing with bassist Mark Helias, and the scope of the album in no small way illustrates the depth to which this is a collaboration between the two.  Though all compositions are credited to Grdina, it’s the way in which those compositions play out in conversation between the two that signals the heart of the album, and, really, its intelligence, too.

Because, in ways that really count, this album is wired to make a cerebral connection.  Grdina adds oud and bowed guitar to his arsenal, and Helias’s elocution on bass carries the presence of words that don’t slip past unnoticed.  The form each song takes shifts from Jazz to Folk to Middle Eastern to Rock, with elements of more than one genre present at any one time.  Adding further texture to this recording are the transitions between duo and quartet pieces, and associated metamorphoses from contemplative states of mind to sudden bouts of turbulence and fury.

Your album personnel:  Gordon Grdina (oud, guitar, bowed guitar), Mark Helias (double bass), Kenton Loewen (drums), and Tony Malaby (tenor sax).

The album opens with some contemplative pieces, with Grdina and Helias working duo.  Grdina gets things started on oud, and he and Helias dance about one another in circles.  Then, on the subsequent track, Grdina, on guitar, steers the album back into jazz territory.  Third track “The Throes” opens with Grdina soloing on guitar, and later, applying some serious heat, but it’s the infectious bounce and melodic touches from the quartet that shine brightest.  Most notable is Tony Malaby’s melodic saxophone sighs, though Loewen’s affable chatter on drums carries the tune in its way, too.

“Leisure Park” displays the quartet’s chaotic nature, bouncing off one another with a kinetic energy that self-perpetuates its apparent motion while implying new directions simultaneously.  And the way the album then slides into the thoughtful duo piece of oud and bass on “Fast Times” further exemplifies the care that went into presenting the album as more than a simple, random collection of tunes… that the way the music flowed down the stream from source to endpoint was considered and deemed important.  This is further evidenced in the way that Grdina follows this up with another duo piece, but whereas the previous track was focused on the cadence of the conversation, “Nayeli Joon” is simply a testament to the inherent beauty in finding just the right words.

And this brings about another change in the weather.  The windstorm of “Cluster” is followed by the aggressive “Fierce Point,” which lets loose a scampering tempo pierced by saxophone shrieks

The album ends with “Visceral Voices,” a post-bop tune that wants to rock out just a bit.  Barreling ahead, Malaby leads out on sax, but has his speed matched by the other quartet members, whose rate of acceleration synchs in with that of the saxophonist.  Ending with this jaunty tune provides a satisfying conclusion to this heavily cerebral album with a strongly beating heart.

Released on Songlines Recordings.

Download a free album track at the Songlines site, courtesy of the artist and label.

Jazz from the Vancouver, BC scene.

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