The Safety Net: Gordon Grdina’s East Van Strings – “The Breathing of Statues”


Gordon Grdina's East Van Strings - "Breathing of Statues"There is a formless quality to The Breathing of Statues, a sense that the varied articulations contributed by the four members of Gordon Grdina’s East Van Strings present an immediate obstacle to tethering this music to any one influence, while simultaneously forging a sonic identity through a collaborative sheer force of will.

Grdina had Bartok in mind when he began writing the music for this recording.  At the same time, he was immersing himself, and his oud, in Arabic music forms.  He enlisted three musicians he’d had fulfilling experiences playing free improvisation with.  Each of these musicians brought to the table their own influences and backgrounds, in classical, in folk, in avant-garde, in minimalism and ambient drone.  And then, with Grdina’s compositional framework in hand, they came together to collaborate, to improvise, to record this music.  It goes a long way to explaining why this album sounds like many things at once while sounding like only itself, a singular expression of that moment.

Your album personnel:  Gordon Grdina (electric guitar, oud), Eyvind Kang (viola), Jesse Zubot (violin), and Peggy Lee (cello).

Opening track “Selma” is an extended sigh.  Grdina’s oud lightly treads a path through warm gentle tides of harmonics.  This lovely atmospheric bliss is only touched upon a few more times, most notably on “Nayeli Joon,” which begins as a collection of dispersed harmonies, untethered from one another, coalescing into a thread of beauty, endless.  There is also the title-track “The Breathing of Statues,” which intersperses the rich harmonic waves with Grdina’s oud delving into the Arabic influence, specifically via the maqam mode, an approach in which the melody is key, both for construction of the song, but also as the launching pad for improvisation.

The blissful sound’s opposite side is also explored by the quartet.  “Silence of Paintings” is turbulence and chaos.  “Holy Departure,” the album’s second track, clashes with previous track “Selma,” and, initially, the strings clash amongst themselves before their slash and burn tactics emerge as a collaborative effort.  “Webern” enters the room strong and abrupt, then comes to a lurching stop, wobbling back and forth, directionless, standing in place but constantly in motion.

And then there are those tracks that fall somewhere in between the two extremes of harmonic bliss and atonal dissonance.  “Santiago” is music of the great expanse… the sensation of tiny sounds massively resonant in a sea of tentative silence.  And “Wide Open,” which concludes the recording, spaces out its varied expressions, but bridges the gaps across the silence with warped notes bent into strange beautiful forms and bursts of shattered melody that behave as stepping stones across a river of choppy rhythmic waves.

A compelling album, not easily categorized, and willing to put itself fully on display.  An album possessing no reservations.

Released in 2009 on Songlines Recordings.

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

Music from the Vancouver, BC scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3 | HDTracks


The Safety Net, a Bird is the Worm series that highlights outstanding older albums that may have flown under the radar when first released.


Other Things You Should Probably Know:

Gordon Grdina - "No Difference"I recently published a review of Grdina’s recent release No Difference, which possesses a different sound than Breathing, and compelling in its own way.  Read HERE.

Peggy Lee Band - "Invitation"Cellist Peggy Lee‘s last recording, Invitation, received the #7 slot on the Bird is the Worm Best of 2012 list.  It’s one of many of her recordings I enjoy.  Read a review HERE.

Bill Frisell - "Quartet"Eyvind Kang has been involved with some of Bill Frisell’s best recordings (among other projects, including albums under his own name).  If you see his name listed in the personnel, you should strongly consider purchasing the album asap.

Ratchet Orchestra - "Hemlock"Jesse Zubot is the founder of the Drip Audio label, which has released albums reviewed on this site by Peggy Lee and Ratchet Orchestra.  Check ’em out, HERE.

Nashaz - "Nashaz"And if you want to hear another recording that utilizes the maqam approach to music, check out the self-titled debut of Nashaz, which received the #30 slot on the Bird is the Worm Best of 2013 list.  Review HERE.