AMN Reviews: Gordon Grdina’s Nomad Trio – Nomad (2020; Skirl Records)

This trio, consisting of guitarist and oud player Grdina, pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer Jim Black, was intentionally formed by Grdina in order to perform his compositions on this album. On writing with Mitchell and Black in mind, Grdina notes that “I could be as imaginative as I wanted to be, which was really exciting.” And given the backgrounds of his collaborators, this should come as no surprise. Mitchell has a been a mainstay of what could be called the Complex New Music scene, recently appearing on albums with Tim Berne, Anna Webber, Dan Weiss, as well as an ongoing series of outstanding solo efforts. Black’s lengthy discography includes works with Berne, Dave Douglas, Kris Davis, as well as leadership roles in AlasNoAxis and the Jim Black Trio, among many more. The Vancouver-based Grdina is no slouch as well, and has produced a consistent series of recordings over the last 15-plus years, working with Canadian, American, and European musicians on forward-looking jazz and Middle-Eastern musics.

Putting these three together could have led in various directions, but Nomad is most remarkable for the interplay between the members of this trio. Grdina focuses on electric guitar and offers up relentless soloing. But the parts he wrote for Mitchell are equally unabating, and consist of a remarkable busy set of rhythms and leads. Black manages to navigate the tricky timings of these pieces in a rather unassuming fashion.

In particular, the juxtaposition of Grdina’s bluesy looseness over Mitchell’s structured playing is worth repeated listening – if for no other reason to appreciate how music that normally would come across as discordant somehow manages to be aesthetically pleasing instead. Indeed, Grdina is jagged and spiky, while Mitchell’s chording comes across in his signature fashion of a classical pianist stretching the boundaries of modern jazz. With all of the activity between Grdina and Mitchell, it can be easy to pay less attention to Black who sets forth equally intricate lines. But the drummer does get time to explore his own knotty stylings with an opening solo on Thanksgiving.

Nonetheless, this recording is not all-out all the time. On Benbow, for instance, Grdina starts things off with a thoughtful and introspective solo before his bandmates join for a take on late-night jazz. And then (of course), Mitchell launches the track into the stratosphere with rapid runs and aggressive staccato hammering to accompany firey soloing from Grdina.

Nomad is out on January 10th.