Guitarist and oud player Grdina sought out Peacock after hearing him at a Keith Jarrett concert in San Francisco in 2000. This involved considerable travel as Peacock now lives in upstate New York, but Grdina made the necessary sacrifices and the bassist became his teacher and mentor. Eventually the teacher agreed to appear on the student's first recording, suggesting Paul Motion as the third member of the trio. The resulting CD, recorded in January of 2006, is described by Stuart Derdeyn in the Vancouver Province as "Middle Eastern-meets-ECM chamber jazz".
I have written elsewhere that many artists seem to hit their creative stride by around their third recording. This is Grdina's first, but what he has been able to achieve here suggest that there is a lot more to come, and the variety of his other projects demonstrate the breadth of his interests. This one is perhaps the most abstract, both in its writing and the improvisation. Grdina's compositions wisely allow for plenty of interaction among members of the trio, and it is sometimes hard to tell where composition ends and improvisation begins, which is exactly as it should be in this kind of music. "I've found that the simpler and clearer the composition, the more room the improviser has to develop it. I wanted the pieces to be full statements in themselves that we as improvisers could comment on but not necessarily have to stay faithful to."
On the evidence of this recording, Grdina is well on the way to achieving this goal. There is, of course, a ways to go because the goal is a lofty one that normally comes only to mature artists after many years of work. Choosing mature artists such as Peacock and Motion has certainly helped, and while Grdina's own playing still needs honing and editing, whose doesn't? The music they have created here is both rooted and fresh, and always absorbing as it moves through a range between the more abstract improvisations such as "String Quartet #6," and more down-to earth grooving in "Combustion." Derdeyn's description comes close to characterizing the music, although, with Peacock and Motion in tow, there is also a strong foundation in 1960s free improvisation, within the limits of a stretched but never abandoned tonality. And Grdina's early guitar heroes--Frisell, Metheny, Scofield, Abercrombie--are lurking somewhere in the background.
Adding color to the mix is Grdina's use of the oud on three tracks. " . . . when I started studying oud," he writes, "I became more aware of the embellishments and articulation of Eastern music, and concentrating more on tone and pitch instead of just sound." His group Sangha is more fully devoted to this instrument and its tradition, but it is fascinating to hear this approach applied within the jazz context. He uses it judiciously, both abstractly, within the improvisations, but also to inject a hint of more exotic conventions, such as the dance-like melody on the title track.
I may have bought this recording on the strength of Peacock's name, and he certainly does not disappoint; he has this extraordinary ability to fit into almost any context, from Keith Jarrett to Albert Ayler, while still sounding exactly like himself. But as I listened to this recording I became equally attracted to Grdina's work. I look forward to hearing more from him, especially as he seems to have absorbed an important lesson from his mentors. As he puts it: "‘Don't play any half-assed music.' That's an intense lesson!"