Cross-border collaboration connecting high-calibre artists

We’re starting 2018 off strong with our first Bright Moments concert of the year, presenting a brand new cross-border trio of exceptional musicians billed as MGB at the Western Front on Friday, January 26.

What does MGB stand for? It’s an acronym for the trio that connects the boundless talents of New York-based pianist Matt Mitchell, Vancouver guitar/oud player Gordon Grdina, and drummer Jim Black, also from the New York area.

The trio is the brainchild of Gordon Grdina who needs little introduction to Vancouver jazz audiences. Maybe you saw him at the last festival at David Lam Park with his 10-piece Arabic/improv ensemble Haram, with his free-punk duo Peregrine Falls, or perhaps with contemporary Persian-influenced groups Qalandar or The Marrow, to name just a few of his current projects. Prolific in his output, his latest project MGB has been years in the making.

We caught up with Gordon to find out more about this project, how it came together, and what to expect at the show.

How did this new collaboration come together?

I’ve known Jim Black since 2003… I had heard him play before that, but that’s when we met and I got a lesson from him while I was at the SIM Improv camp. I believe I first heard him on a record with Ben Monder which was mind-blowing for me with the beautifully lyrical Ben Street on bass. Monder blew my mind and Jim was a cyclone; he made everything sound easy while being constantly surprising. I then saw him with Pachora and heard him a lot with Tim Berne’s Bloodcount and with the Tiny Bell Trio, then I had a lesson with him and it was pretty magical. We got to play for the first time a couple years ago when he was in town with E-Blood. We played a duo set opening for my trio with Oscar Noriega as a guest. I felt an instant rapport that had a playful sense of intensity.

I met Matt Mitchell a few years ago when I started putting together what would become my quartet in New York. We played a show of that music with Satoshi Takeishi on drums and Jon Irabagon on alto. He was incredible, sight-reading the material at rehearsal better than I could play it after practicing it for a month. I believe he was writing the music that would become A Pouting Grimace at that time, a record that I think is truly ground-breaking. I first heard him with Snakeoil who I was obsessed with at the time. I really just listened to Tim Berne and Soundgarden for a year. Matt is so incredible at playing Tim’s music, I just really wanted to play with him. Studying a bit with Tim and hearing that band has really sparked a re-invigoration for self-exploration in composition for me. It seemed to open a clear path that I’ve been following ever since.

I knew I wanted to do something with Matt and then after playing with Jim I thought that this group would be special. I know they have played together before but I haven’t heard it documented on a recording which is something we’re going to do the day after our concert at Western Front.

What should the audience expect to hear from the trio?

I’ve been exploring a few new directions in my playing, composing, and harmonic concept. I recently toured down the west coast solo and I feel I’m starting to get a grasp on some new ideas and harmonic concepts. I composed a big chunk of this music at the end of that tour in a hotel in Northern California and at a childhood vacation trailer in northern Washington. The music feels new to me but is also pretty closely tied to my quartet’s music on Inroads.

As for what is going to happen when we play it I have no idea. I just know that at least two-thirds of the music will be f*&^ing incredible all of the time! There is a ton of improv in this music and by the time we hit in Vancouver the band will have had enough shows and time to have really digested the material. Please come and please tell me know what you think, even if you think it sucks…

What are your plans for the trio? You mentioned recording, will you also tour?

For right now I only have plans to record the group. Thanks to CreativeBC we’re going to be able to record the band the day after the concert on January 27 at Afterlife Studios. I’ve been focused on this tour and recording for the past few months and after it’s recorded I’ll see what the next steps may be, but these guys are insanely busy so this could very well be the last time we get to play for a really long time. This type of music is based on a lot of energy directed into something very fleeting. If we’re lucky we end up with a recording that somehow captures a part of the absolute experience. It is a direct reflection of the fleeting and insignificant reality of existence — something I feel is worth celebrating while we can.

Any other projects you are involved with happening in 2018 that you are excited about?

Actually, the day after the trio recording Jim and I are going to record a duo album which will mostly be off-the-cuff improvisations.

I have an incredible record with The Marrow (Mark Helias bass, Hank Roberts cello and Hamin Honari-Tombak daf) coming out on Songlines in June. I’m playing exclusively oud in that band and the music is focused on melding contemporary Western concepts with Arabic Maqam and Persian classical music. We played a series of concerts around the city at the end of the summer and the band instantly felt like a family!

I’ve got a new band for the jazz festival this year that I’ve been trying to get happening for the past two years as well as a new Haram record and a new quartet record in the works for the fall.

I feel like it is a very important historical time for creative music right now with inspiring and groundbreaking music being made all over the place. There is so much beauty being made that it’s a full time job to even hear half of it. This is at a time when there is so much idiocy, bigotry and callousness. We can’t let the bastards win… meaning, soul and inspiration are rarely found on Fox News y’know? I’m trying to get involved and feel incredibly grateful to be part of it.

For more about the show, read Alexander Varty’s interview with Gordon in the Georgia Straight: Grdina relishes the sweet freedom of MGB

You can see MGB on Friday, Janaury 26, 8PM, at the Western Front.