Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gordon Grdina - No Difference

Gordon Grdina
No Difference

Gordon Grdina - Oud, Guitar, Bowed guitar
Mark Helias - Double Bass
Kenton Loewen - Drums
Tony Malaby - Tenor Saxophone

I was not familiar with Gordon Grdina’s music before No Difference, although I was aware of his long association with the Songlines label, dating back to 2006. The fact that he played the oud made me wary, I have to admit, because to my ears it has a more limited tonal range than the guitar. Also, it invariably means World Music influences, which too many times when combined with jazz only serves to water down each idiom instead of produce a compelling hybrid. The supporting cast on No Difference, however, helped dispel some of my apprehension: Drummer Kenton Loewen was also unknown to me, but Mark Helias and Tony Malaby are compelling players.

No Difference is an eclectic affair. The pieces, all by Grdina, are a mix of studio and live performances, ranging from duos with Helias to a trio track to quartet tracks with Malaby. Grdina has been quoted as saying he has tried to hear Wayne Shorter’s and Albert Ayler’s music through the guitar, but his single note lines and slightly distorted tone on the electric reminded me more of late 60s/early 70s fusion. Tony Malaby adds a lot to the quartet tracks, with gritty improvisations that retain a tie to the underlying melodies.

The part of which I was most unsure, the duets with Mark Helias and Grdina on oud, I probably enjoyed most of all. Helias offers the perfect level of support while providing his own melodic lines. Grdina’s Middle Eastern-influenced themes have an authentic feel and intensity as well.

No Difference has a split personality, but if you're a guitar fan or a fan of Middle Eastern music it won't matter to you.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Drew Gress – The Sky Inside

Drew Gress
The Sky Inside

Drew Gress - Bass, Electronics
Tim Berne - Alto Saxophone
Ralph Alessi - Trumpet
Craig Taborn - Piano
Tom Rainey - Drums

The Sky Inside is the fourth release by Drew Gress with essentially the same group. He started with Spin & Drift (2001, Premonition), a release that looked good on paper but never really fulfilled its promise. 7 Black Butterflies (2005, Premonition) substituted Craig Taborn for Uri Caine and added trumpeter Ralph Alessi. I initially passed when it came out, but eventually came around and was very glad I did. He followed that with The Irrational Numbers (2008, Koch), another excellent record.

The Sky Inside shows that everyone has grown as mature, expressive players over the years. Tom Rainey is a modern rhythm master, able to accentuate the proceedings without calling undue attention to himself. Tim Berne and Alessi are both in the middle of probably the most productive periods of their careers, with their respective ECM albums and numerous guest appearances. Taborn shows himself to particularly good effect, whether helping hold down repeating rhythmic figures or providing key transitions in the compositions.

There’s always something interesting going on with Gress’s arrangements, a sense of motion and intricacy underneath while the horns play with and around each other. While his compositions strike a balance between melody and abstraction, In Streamline stands out because it is simply, unabashedly, beautiful. It reminded me of one of those perfect fall days when I lived in NYC, walking along brownstones in the afternoon sun, everything right with the world, if only for a moment. It’s the kind of performance that would be perfect on the soundtrack of a sophisticated, urban film.

As with the previous releases, there’s a very subtle use of electronic effects to enhance the arrangements in some places on the record. I usually hate any kind of studio manipulation, but the effects work here because they are so unobtrusive.

Distribution has been an issue recently for the label in the U.S., but you should be able to get it through Downtown Music Gallery, or through the Pirouet website.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Tim Daisy Trio - A Fine Day In Berlin

Back in August I posted about percussionist Tim Daisy's new label, Relay Recordings and reviewed his first two digital-only releases, both of which were excellent. He's now back with A Fine Day In Berlin, a trio recording with pianist Havard Wiik (Atomic/Side A) and bassist Clayton Thomas, with whom I'm not familiar. The recording is available as a digital download or a proper CD.