Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter


Sometimes it happens that I find a mysterious object in my mailbox. This time it's a recent release by a quartet called Box Cutter, whose leader - at least, judging from the way their name is worded - appears to be Gordon Grdina: a guitar player whose name I'm sure I've already seen elsewhere (but where, exactly?) in a review I read of a CD he recorded alongside familiar names such as Gary Peacock and Paul Motian.

Unlearn features a quartet which - for the instrumentation used, and for the music they play - I'll call "jazz". We have the leader's guitar, which to me sounds like an acoustic with a piezo mike at the bridge, or sometimes like a semi-acoustic with a pick-up; François Houle's jazzy, sometimes bluesy, clarinet; Karlis Silins's double bass, which rarely comes to the fore but is always clearly audible; Kenton Loewen's drums, quite often played using brushes. Though not good enough for a Grammy®, the recorded sound never misrepresents the material, and with just a couple of (very minor) overdubbing we have a group playing "live" (in a studio). The material is not bad at all (by the way: who's the composer? the liner notes offer no indication, nor the CD itself!), and the musicians all play as being familiar with each other's moves. Here and there there's something that sounds a bit strange, such as a comping guitar not really in tune with the clarinet, or the clarinet itself sounding out of tune in one track: those things I think should had been taken off the final master, since they are noticeable, and disturbing.

At this point, before going deeper into my description, it's my duty to warn readers of my age-old aversion (which at this point looks like it will never go away) towards "jazz guitar". (What's a "jazz guitar"? Well, it's a difficult thing to define, but I can recognize one within hearing two notes.) This is what "guitar" meant to me at the tender age of seventeen: Eric Clapton, Vince Martell, Robin Trower, Mike Bloomfield, Robert Fripp, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa, Jorma Kaukonen, John Fogerty, Jimi Hendrix. This is what my reaction was at that time upon hearing guitarists such as Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessell: "you call this a guitar?". And I have to admit that - from John Abercrombie to Pat Metheny, from John Scofield to Bill Frisell, both live and on record - I've never really changed my mind. (Which doesn't mean I won't pay my money to see Russell Malone with Christian McBride.) (And Liberty Ellman with Henry Threadgill!)

To me, the theme to Titlewave, which opens the album, sounds quite a bit like 70s-era Braxton, with a nice clarinet and irregular moves; both guitar solo and clarinet solo, however, so full of swing, can be placed inside a pre-Ornette frame of reference; the same is true of the "cool" theme, for clarinet, with drums played using brushes, of the following track, Cworky. I could define the theme to Kenton & I, where a "classic-sounding" guitar solo is followed by a "noisy" interlude, as being quite a bit reminiscent of Eric Dolphy. Soft and smooth, almost like a soundtrack, Pads is played on two clarinets. Say has a joyous theme, almost a bossa, played on clarinet, and vivacious solos.

Distant sounds pleasantly démodé, with a ¾ theme played by clarinet, again drums with brushes, and a clear double bass. Origin is also Dolphy-like. Soul Suite left me puzzled: after an airy start, the theme is - in my opinion - very reminiscent of Wayne Horvitz's style: but Horvitz would have organized the material quite differently, first of all by making the track a lot shorter. Two interesting tracks come at the very end: the jerky theme, and the interesting development, of Albert The Monk; also Platform, where a very nice second part has two overdubbed clarinets with a solid backing by the rhythm section.

To put it in a nutshell: had I seen the group live, I would not talk about "a wasted night out"; but I really find the existence of this CD (which is miles too long, when compared to what it has to say) a bit hard to explain.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2007

CloudsandClocks.net | Mar. 4, 2007