©Brett Delmage, 2019
Gord Grdina with oud ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Gord Grdina
21st Century Guitar Conference
Freiman Hall, Perez Hall, University of Ottawa
Sunday, August 25, 2019 – 12 noon

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

On Sunday, Gord Grdina enthralled his audience at the 21st Century Guitar Conference with a 70-minute solo performance, quiet yet intense and exploratory.

Switching between classical guitar and oud, the Vancouver jazz musician played a series of new acoustic compositions plus one Arabic piece. They were primarily ones that he was preparing for a new album, he said.

Grdina won a JUNO award this year for Instrumental Album of the Year for China Cloud, a collection of improvised solo pieces recorded at the China Cloud underground art space space in Vancouver. He also appeared with his quartet at the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Many of the pieces he played on Sunday were from his “Seeds” series, in which he has collected seeds of ideas meant to inspire further improvisation. He opened on guitar with “Seeds 12”, creating a series of figures, which repeated and gradually evolved with questing high notes singing over the underlying rhythm, and longer notes interspersed with quick bursts of short notes. The overall effect was controlled and liquid: at one point reminding me of water descending in a fall, at another like serene waves rippling in a lake.

He followed that with “Contra”, a more accented and interrogatory piece, which featured tense and not-quite-resolved patterns building as Grdina's fingers danced up and down his fretboard.

Moving to oud, he played “Wayward”, which was also featured on his Cooper's Park quartet album. Its trembling notes at first barely coalesced and then developed into fast descending arpeggios with a Arabic feel. It was a hard-edged piece, with rhythm emphasized over tone; at one point he was tapping on the wood of the oud to create a fast beat. It then returned to a more Arabic musicality, creating fast and insistent dancing melodies before ending abruptly.

He later performed “Sama'i Faraphaza” by Turkish musician Cemil Bey on the oud. It was an emphatic yet calm collection of repeated vibrating patterns, whose stops and starts reminded me of a traditional dance, and which closed with a gentle expository melody.

Other unnamed guitar pieces included a thoughtful piece which contrasted delicate Debussy-like strands of notes with deeper singing lines; a striking tune whose fast flurries of notes never quite resolved and ended abruptly after a last frantic flourish; and a simple but not simplistic ballad whose gentle melody was outlined in airy clusters of notes.

The audience's applause grew steadily more enthusiastic through the show. At the end of his allocated hour, Grdina asked them if they'd like one more tune, and they enthusiastically agreed. “We'll see what happens,” he said, and closed with a propulsive and complex dance of notes, with a traditional feel. It built up and up, before closing simply, and was greeted with very strong applause.

This concert demonstrated how compelling a show one talented musician and his acoustic instruments can produce. Ostensibly simple, it had depth and variety that kept everyone in that room fascinated throughout.

Grdina will return to Ottawa in January as part of a larger tour. He'll play at GigSpace with his MGB Trio, with pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black.

Read related stories by OttawaJazzScene.ca: