Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow with Fathieh Honari

cover, The MarrowCanadian Grdina is a Vancouver-based guitarist, composer, improviser, and master oud player who is incredibly active in improvisational and experimental music of many kinds, most of it based around Middle Eastern and specifically Persian themes. On The Marrow he and a top notch jazz ensemble join with Persian vocalist Fathieh Honari on a deeply trance-like set that focuses squarely on his masterful oud playing.

I’ve loved the sound of the oud for many years now, having enjoyed the playing of Sandy Bull, Barbarito Torres, and others – and most recently Anouar Brahem. Brahem’s Blue Maqams is a true desert island disc for me, showcasing his compositions and playing in an ensemble of world class jazz musicians. The Marrow is quite similar in many ways, melding Persian and improvised music with cellist Hank Roberts, bassist Mark Helias, and the Iranian-Canadian percussionist Hamin Honari. The passionate vocals of Hamin Honari’s mother, Fathhieh Honari, pushes it to an even higher level. It’s improvised world music of the highest order.

The album has only six tracks but they all offer fairly full explorations of musical themes and improvisations, so you definitely get your money’s worth. The 12-minute opener in itself deeply explores the possibilities of this ensemble, from Fathieh Honaris deeply meditative vocal incantations of the words of 13th century Persian poet Rumi, through the stirring sections in which percussion, cello and oud explore the melody in unison, and especially the improvisations on Roberts’ cello first, then a dervish of a duet on percussion and oud.

The fourth track “Break The Branch” similarly offers up Rumi’s transcendant poetry in a genre-blurring setting that’s as much modern jazz as Middle Eastern. Both “Raqib” and “Raqs e Parvaneh” are arrangements of popular songs from the 1960s and ’70s, the latter having a more traditional sound even with the unexpected presence of cello, particularly with the use of a tabla-type hand drum; deep bass drone introduces “Raqib,” which after a theme setting intro launches into a call-and-response sing along. Bass and cello combine for even more amazing droning accompaniment to Honaris’ vocals on the haunting traditional Baluchi song “Qalandar” that closes the album. (Helias’s bass playing on the intro honestly reminds me of some of the more experimental playing of Joey Burns on some of Calexico’s improvisational offerings of the early late Nineties.) This one too ends up with some stirring ensemble vocals — the song sounds like it should accompany a folk dance.

The Marrow is part of a dual album release by Grdina this spring. The other, aptly titled Duo Work features Grdina’s experimental electric guitar playing along with German drum virtuoso Christian Lillinger, which is not reviewed here.

The Marrow is highly recommended to World music fans, particularly those who enjoy oud, Persian and Arabic music, and improvised music.

(Attaboygirl, 2024)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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