Gordon Grdina Nomad Trio with Matt Mitchell & Jim Black
Album review: Boiling Point, by Gordon and the trio
Gordon Grdina released Boiling Point, an album with Matt Mitchell on piano and Jim Black on drums, on June 17, 2022.
Gordon plays both guitar and oud on the album, and he brought this trio to the 2022 Vancouver jazz festival, performing at Ironworks late at night on July 1. (I received two comp tickets to this concert.)
Though the trio played different music at the concert than they recorded on Boiling Point, the live gig's format resembles the album's: start out with heavy guitar, have the switch to oud be the fulcrum, and end full of energy like you're just getting warmed-up. Gordon had power stances when riffing with the piano's left hand and kept the talking to a minimum through the relatively short set.
Gordon sounds like he could play anything at any time. His guitar sits in such a well-defined place in the mix – even when he plays chords and double-stops – allowing him to take flight while the trio rages all around him. (His oud fits in with a much more percussive tone.)
The Nomad Trio sounds like they have twenty different grooves running simultaneously in each of their minds – and they're the same grooves, so when they burst into any one of them, they're all right there.
This is how, led by the drumset, the band can jump around from a blastbeat to vaguely swing-time to a heavy metal groove to supercharged improvisation and beyond.
The oud switch happens at “Cali-lacs”. Ambient at first, the track gets into a groove halfway through. One particular crash cymbal really amps up the energy in the oud solo, to the point where the piano can take flight in a dynamic solo. Jim Black has a way of highlighting every piece of percussion at his disposal as the band zooms from groove to groove.
On this album, Matt Mitchell explores the piano thoroughly to colour-in all the intricate spaces of the ensemble. The left-hand bass hooks up with the electric guitar to great effect, but often it's two hands chording with aplomb. He even hints at bebop language sometimes when he solos.
“Shibuya” starts with soft guitar power-chording, then droning accompaniment for a piano solo. This track, like the whole first half of the album, shows the patience and depth of listening among the ensemble.
But what is the album's 'boiling point'? Maybe there is none – maybe it reveals that the goal is to sustain constant excitement through a whole performance, whether in the studio or on stage to a jubilant Ironworks crowd?
For me it could be “All Caps” and indeed the final moments of this final track, which has the hardest drumming from Jim Black. Take the temperature of this trio when you listen, and let me know where you feel the heat.