Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow – Ejdeha – Songlines 

by | Apr 11, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow – Ejdeha – [TrackList follows] – Songlines SGL 2409-2, 46:28 [6/22/18] ****:

Gordon Grdina is not a conventional jazz string player. For one thing, he has been incorporating the oud (a short-neck, lute-type, pear-shaped stringed instrument used in Middle Eastern and North African music) into his music since starting lessons on the oud 15+ years ago. For another, Grdina bases much of his improvisational music not on jazz standards or music from the Great American Songbook, but rather Arabic and Persian classical modes. That is the focus of Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow, a quartet consisting of Grdina on oud; bassist Mark Helias (his credits include Andrew Cyrille, Mark Dresser and Bobby Previte); cellist Hank Roberts (who has been a sideman to Tim Berne and Alex Cline; and has been on nine Bill Frisell albums); and Persian percussionist Hamin Honari (who utilizes tombak, daf and frame drum).

Grdina’s Middle Eastern/avant jazz material is intricate and collaborative, with interplay, extended tonality and exploratory prominence. That is the emphasis on the group’s 46-minute, seven-tune release, Ejdeha (the Farsi and Kurdish word for dragon). Grdina’s originals comprise five quartet pieces and two works for strings without percussion. The first all-string effort is the slowly-evolving, four-minute “Bordeaux Bender,” which Grdina describes as, “A three-part invention with each new part revealing more information and re-contextualizing the original melody. I wanted the piece to welcome more exploratory improvisation that was harmonically ambiguous…and lead to some untypical spaces for the oud.” The other all-string cut is the nearly seven-minute, melancholy “Full Circle.” The measured, melodic arrangement has a cinematic character akin to a desert scene with dust and persistent wind in the foreground. Grdina states, “To me it seems like a standard and territory that we were all familiar with. That piece was written quickly, and I wasn’t sure it would work in this context, but I was pleasantly surprised and find myself singing that tune in my head often.”

Portrait Gordon Grdina

Gordon Grdina

The album commences with two lengthy quartet pieces which showcase the group’s creativity and musical dialogue. The ruminating “Telesm” (apparently named after a tiny Iranian village near the Iraqi border) presents the band in a tender temperament, unhurriedly unrolling with rhythmic passages which begin as structured and gradually shift to a faster and more open cadence. The eight-minute “Idiolect” (which is defined as an individual’s distinctive and unique use of language, including speech) is well titled. During “Idiolect” The Marrow displays the quartet’s capacity to be outside the norm; escalate the beat; demonstrate an ability to gel jazz and Middle Eastern influences; and expertly intermingle, especially where Roberts’ cello and Grdina’s oud echo each other and then produce contrasting fluidity. Avant-jazz tendencies are offered during the six-minute, through-composed “Wayward,” where degrees of tension and release are exhibited via juxtaposing strings and sometimes frictional percussive elements. Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow end with the seven-minute “Boubacar,” which Grdina composed 14 years ago as a tribute to Malian guitarist Boubacar Traoré. “Boubacar” starts with a two-minute solo oud introduction, and then the full group enters and widens “Boubacar” into a rhythmic tune which has an animated, pulsing format. The blending of Middle Eastern music with jazz can sometimes sound forced or undernourished. Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow proves music from different regions can be converted into singular, inventive and very enjoyable music. Audiophile fans should note Ejdeha was recorded and mixed in 24 bits/96kHz. The mixing and mastering supplies beautiful-sounding highs and lows well worth hearing.

Gordon Grdina – oud; Mark Helias – bass; Hank Roberts – cello; Hamin Honari – tombak, daf, frame drum

Bordeaux Bender
Full Circle

—Doug Simpson

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