No Difference (Songlines)
The word lovely isn’t generally the first adjective you’d reach for when trying to describe Gordon Grdina’s music. Terms like fast, fierce, and visceral are usually more appropriate, and Grdina appears to agree: No Difference includes tunes called “Fast Times”, “Fierce Point”, and “Visceral Voices”. Elsewhere, though, this collaboration with upright bassist Mark Helias is unabashedly beautiful, and at times—check out the lullabylike “Nayeli Joon”—it’s even sweet.
It’s tempting to ascribe this new dimension to the presence of the 63-year-old Helias, a New York City–based veteran who’s worked with everyone from sly songwriter Mose Allison to free-jazz free spirit Cecil Taylor. He and Grdina share an obvious rapport—especially when the guitarist picks up his oud, as on opening track “Hope in Being”. This luminous duet for two fretless instruments finds our protagonists in perfect synchrony, with Helias nailing the microtonal inflections that Grdina, a student of Arab music, brings to the piece. And in the numbers where the two are joined by drummer Kenton Loewen and saxophonist Tony Malaby, Helias is a strong, steady presence, even when the music roils with free-jazz abandon.
Still, Grdina wrote all the tunes, so credit him with recognizing that he doesn’t have to play hard and fast all the time—and for making the most fully realized and listenable record of his career.