Don’t let the opening track fool you. Russ Lossing’s spacious solo-piano meditation, incongruously titled “Giggles,” does not prepare you for what’s to follow. That would be “Not Sure,” initially Mahavishnu-esque in its velocity and intensity, soon enough visiting Ornette-land, next venturing into deep space, then solemn neoclassicism and finally all-out crashing, brooding, thudding metal bombast.
You’re only two tracks in at this point, and Inroads doesn’t get any less adventuresome or more predictable as it unfolds. There’s frisky interplay, free chaos, curious wandering, screechy assault, giddy jabbing and, to wrap it, “Giggles II,” which, like its earlier counterpart, is sweeping and airy but not the least bit funny.
This is all done by a quartet whose Vancouver-based leader Gordon Grdina plays both guitar and oud, the fretless, 11-string Middle Eastern-associated instrument. Grdina, who claims influences from classical and rock as well as from various schools of jazz (his debut featured Gary Peacock and Paul Motian), is all about dodging convention, and he does so throughout Inroads, aided in that pursuit by Lossing on Fender Rhodes and piano, drummer Satoshi Takeishi and Oscar Noriega, whose alto saxophone and clarinets provide the recording with much of its color. It is he who duets with Grdina on the hushed “Semantics,” giving the others a break, and on the ironically titled “Kite Flight,” with its defiant mugging and teasing.
Inroads is at its best, though, when all four components are fired up. “Apocalympics” is what you’d expect a song with that title to be, a bravado display of strength and finesse, and “P.B.S.” is never quite sure what it wants to be, but in a good way.