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Gordon Grdina: Nomad Trio (Skirl)

A review of the guitarist led trio album

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Gordon Grdina, Nomad Trio
The cover of Gordon Grdina’s Nomad Trio by Gordon Grdina

One trait of avant-garde jazz is that it often dispenses with niceties and throws you right into a shitstorm. On “Wildfire,” the first track here, with no chance to warm up, you are besieged with Matt Mitchell’s piano hammering in the left channel and Gordon Grdina’s guitar slashing and bleating in the right.

It takes a couple of tracks to adjust to the Nomad Trio, to hear the inner details, to separate the noise into its constituent parts. Grdina sometimes plays interesting, peculiar melodies. But on pieces like “Ride Home,” which goes nowhere, he flails about like someone running in place, and Mitchell obsessively repeats a few invasive discords.   

Here is an opinion on Matt Mitchell, offered with the knowledge that it will be a minority view: He can be one of the most annoying pianists in modern music. Critics have praised his work for its daring and uniqueness, and he is no doubt a sincere seeker. But what he plays is often ugly, like on “Nomad,” where he is somehow both frantic and monotonous.

There is an odd anomaly to this trio album: The best moments come when players act alone. Jim Black’s cryptic drum prologue on “Thanksgiving” is intriguing. Mitchell by himself on “Benbow” shows what people like about him, with his wild aggression containing a lyric impulse. Unaccompanied, Grdina explores some promising ideas. But when these three play as an ensemble they tend to interfere with, rather than complement, one another. The sense of an overcrowded musical space is not helped by the undistinguished production, which mashes three instruments together with no air around them.

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Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.