Gordon Grdina's The Marrow

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A must-have album for Jazz and World Music fans. In this set of original compositions, guitarist-composer Gordon Grdina performs on the oud, an ancestor of the European lute. The quartet, including bassist Mark Helias, cellist Hank Roberts and percussionist Hamin Honari, spin jazz improvisations over Near-Eastern musical forms. The recording presents the instruments with superb clarity.
– Mark Werlin, NativeDSD & All About Jazz

Ejdeha extends Gordon Grdina’s previous oud-centred fusions involving jazz improvisation and middle eastern music, from his 2006 debut Think Like the Waves with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian to his Vancouver 10-piece group Haram.

It also draws on the vibe of his more guitar-based New York projects No Difference (2013), featuring oud duets with Mark Helias, and his more recent New York quartet (Inroads, 2017). As Grdina told critic Stuart Derdeyn, “In the last few years it’s starting to feel like the oud playing and the guitar playing are turning into the same thing…It feels like [jazz is] looking outwards…Indian music, Iraqi music, Arabic stuff, Persian music: they’re all giving jazz another viewpoint on improvising.”

Certainly jazzing the oud has been going on for decades (Rabih Abou-Khalil, Anouar Brahem, not to mention Admed Abdul-Malik), but Grdina’s avant-jazz background makes for a very different result.

The Marrow began as a trio with Helias and Hank Roberts but soon morphed into a quartet with the addition of the Canadian Persian percussionist Hamin Honari. The music, all original compositions by Grdina but mostly based on classical Arabic and Persian modes (many with quarter-tones, well executed by Helias and Roberts), provides a context for creative group interplay. The music is intricate, sometimes delicate, other times high-risk exciting. There are dark, brooding excursions propelled by middle eastern vamps as well as more contrapuntally through-composed works (“Wayward”) that relate to the music on Inroads. The program also includes two slow, song-like explorations for strings without percussion, and the final piece is a vibrant, toe-tapping tribute to Malian guitarist Boubacar Traore. The title track (Ejdeha is the Farsi and Kurdish word for dragon) shows how Grdina adapts middle-eastern modes to his own purposes, as it references the Persian dastgahs Nava, Saba and Nahawand before resolving on Rast.

Regarding his own personal musical practice on the oud, Grdina feels that “this has developed more from taking off the reins and letting go, to not try and constrict the improvisation, more than in a conscious effort to add new ideas into traditional language. This has led to sometimes staying completely within tonal, modal or rhythmic constraints and other times stretching them. I have been and still am working at hearing and internalizing maqam and dastgah in order to have aspects of them come about naturally and fluidly just as more western improvisational ideas already do.”

The Marrow
Gordon Grdina, Oud
Mark Helias, Bass
Hank Roberts, Cello
Hamin Honari, Tombak, Daf & Frame Drum


Please note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Boudeaux Bender
Full Circle

Total time: 00:46:25

Additional information





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AD Convertor

Lynx Aurora


Mastered by Chris Gestrin at Public Alley 421


John Raham at Afterlife Studios, Vancouver


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Original Recording Format

Recording Engineer

John Raham

Recording Location

Recorded September 9, 2017

Release DateJuly 5, 2024

Press reviews

The Free Jazz Collective

The Marrow delivers Grdina’s intricate compositions with an organic fluidity, adapting superbly to the complex quarter-tones-based modes, or to the more ambitious and contrapuntally through-composed piece, “Wayward”, which relates to Grdina’s compositions for Inroads (reviewed below). Grdina leads the quartet with reserved yet assured playing, different from his urgent tone as a guitarist. His immediate, telepathic interplay with Honari dictates the suggestive pulse of his compositions. He improvises freely on the title piece between different maqams – Nava, Saba, Nahawand and Rast in a natural, poetic ease and irreverent approach that no traditional oud player will allow himself/herself. Some pieces like “Bordeaux Bender” suggest more open, exploratory improvisations while others as “Full Circle” offer conventional, more simple and melodic themes. Grdina concludes this impressive album with a beautiful, joyful tribute to the great Malian guitarist-singer-songwriter Boubacar Traoré, simply titled “Boubacar”. This time his oud spins the cyclical West-African lines through the hypnotic-rhythmic playing of Nubian-Sudanese late oud player Hamza El-Din.

Musique Machine

(…) The tone of each instrument is dry and stark; this is a fully acoustic recording, and feels like the desert from which these traditions emerged. The sharp twang of Grdina’s oud is earnest and pained, mingling perfectly with the melodic embellishments of celloist Hank Roberts. The recording feels vivid, clear and immediate without any hint of artificial enhancement, for a very effective and transparent production.

This is rich and listenable recording which works on multiple levels, providing a great density of complex and expressive melodic work, as well as a steady yet unfamiliar rhythm. It’s traditional music with the precision, reserved sophistication and ambition of jazz. I could play this recording on repeat all day, and never develop any fatigue at any of these pieces or sounds. Between the two Grdina projects I have listened to, it would be difficult to pick a favorite as each is so brilliantly distinct, and each serves its function.

Audiophile Audition

(…) The blending of Middle Eastern music with jazz can sometimes sound forced or undernourished. Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow proves music from different regions can be converted into singular, inventive and very enjoyable music. Audiophile fans should note Ejdeha was recorded and mixed in 24 bits/96kHz. The mixing and mastering supplies beautiful-sounding highs and lows well worth hearing.


Gordon Grdina has a compound musical identity, as both free-jazz guitarist and devoted advocate of the middle-Eastern oud, the forebearer of many western plectrum instruments (“lute” is a corruption of “el oud”). In Grdina’s practice, however, the two overlap, the improvisatory traditions and subtle pitch distinctions of Arabic and Persian music clearly feeding into the kind of jazz he favours. The Marrow’s balance is perfect: he and fellow Vancouver-based percussionist Hamin Honari are matched with New York jazz mainstays, cellist Hank Roberts and bassist Mark Helias. (…)

Vancouver Sun

(…) The oud, at least the way Grdina plays it, becomes a driving force in all of the album tracks. But where his guitar playing can often be characterized by frantic and furious shards of noise, he never goes past the point of control playing oud. Every note rings so clear and fluid that it’s positively hypnotic. Even though this is most certainly an outside-the-norms jazz album it will certainly appeal to a very wide range of listeners because of this clarity in execution.


(…) Throughout, Grdina’s oud lingers on the palette (“Full Circle”), despite the instrument’s natural inclination for the notes to fade soon after they are played. Ejdeha, Kurdish for dragon, is a compelling work of contemporary and ancient telepathy, a sure sign that humans can talk to each other.

Pop Matters

(…) To a professional musician, saying that you picked up a particular instrument 15 years ago is like saying you picked it up yesterday. In the grand scheme of things, Gordon Grdina has just begun to explore the possibilities of the oud in jazz-influenced Middle Eastern music. He also could be further along than we think, meaning that Ejdeha could be seen in the future as a turning point for this particular musical blend. If not, it’s still quite the musical statement.


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