Gordon Grdina’s Harem Her Eyes Illuminate Songlines

Guitarist and oud virtuoso Gordon Grdina’s conceptualized presentation on Her Eyes Illuminate is organic in nature and working within what can easily be considered a small jazz orchestra still manages an intriguing call and response pattern that is spatial in context and one of the most creative Arabic/avant jazz fusion releases that will be hitting the street on August 14 2012. The obvious cultural difference not to mention form and functionality make the Arabic sonic translation incredibly difficult and for most artists is a futile attempt at fusing together an original hybrid. Not here, Grdina’s band Haram seems to transcend genres and gently ease their way past other sonic barriers that would set off a musical trip wire for a lesser artist.

Her Eyes Illuminate is a release built upon a definite Arabic foundation of Egyptian and Iraqi artists from the last century. While I have heard Arabic influences on numerous releases that added a nice contrast and flavor to the tune or tunes in question, generally speaking Arabic music for me is the equivalent of nails down a chalk board. The harmonic disconnect that I hear in this music is almost impossible to literally sit through. The incredible aspect of this release is that Grdina’s ability to take these influences and while maintaining a high level of artistic integrity turn this into what my smooth jazz contemporaries would call a “great hang.” Make no mistake this is Arabic/avant jazz fusion and for me, the first successful hybrid of its kind where literally east meets west in form and functionality but with no regard for self imposed limitations of being genre specific. There is an open yet deceptively complex aesthetic. Sounds, notes and phrasing are connective in this case Grdina’s band Haram is clearly a cultural by product of their own sonic experience.

“Rags al Jamal/Dance of Beauty” opens with delightful percussive nuances and a lyrical sense of purpose with some tremendous improvisation work from Chris Kelly on tenor sax. “Sharpening” is a developing piece articulated with a drum exploratory of rhythm and texture of sonic motion. As the tune opens up with drummer Kenton Loewen and bassist Tommy Babin the vocalist Emad Armoush takes over the direction of the tune but with all the ensemble components in perfect harmonious cohesion despite the syncopated free style improvisation taking place underneath but the ebb and flow is captivating. “En Shakawt al Hawa/If You Complain About Love” dials back the intensity yet the harmonic ability to change dynamics on the fly is stunning. Rhythm, texture, harmonic movement and accessibility while performing well outside the box this marriage of Arabic music and influence with western jazz sensibilities is at times addictive.

While having studied and performed music for years, I can be totally honest in that my knowledge of Arabic music is perhaps equal to my knowledge of differential calculus. I do know that the sound is open, slightly organic and there is a tonality here that is very appealing. If you enjoy Arabic music or culture on all most any level and your taste leans toward the more avant-jazz fusion realm then this will be gold for you!

For a better overview of the project check out Gord’s website at www.gordongrdina.com/haram.

Personnel: Gordon Grdina: oud, arrangements; Chris Kelly: tenor saxophone; JP Carter: trumpet; Francois Houle: clarinet; Jesse Zubot: violin, electronics; Tim Gerwing: darbuka; Liam MacDonald: riq; Tommy Babin: electric bass; Kenton Loewen: drums; Emad Armoush: vocals, ney.