"Gorgeous live debut LP by an extremely flexible quartet put together by Vancouver based string-monster, Gordon Grdina. Grdina plays both electric guitar and oud. His guitar work here recalls a couple of very different players -- the clean angular scramble of Boston's Joe Morris, and also the more lyrical passages played by the master of power-distortion, Sonny Sharrock. On oud (an instrument most often associated with traditional music of Northern African and Western Asia) he creates a new approach to the instrument, perhaps parallel to what Chicago's Joshua Abrams is doing with the guimbri.
Grdina's fellow travelers in Square Peg are all similar in their multi-directional tactics. Players unafraid to go deep into uncharted territory, with wide discographies on which they play with legends and neophytes with equal power.
Brooklyn-born violinist Mat Maneri has collaborated with everyone from Cecil Taylor to Robin Williamson, and is known for his totally open approach to both violin and viola. Maneri’s playing here most often reminds me of '70s Leroy Jenkins, shifting from dark sonorities to light-drenched obliquity in the blink of an eye. New York-based Shahzad Ismaily plays bass and synth here, although I've seen him at festivals where he played six different instruments in six different groups. Ismaily can pretty much do anything, but here he creates a flowing, near-constant foundation effectively holding everything together. German drummer, Christian Lillinger, has also played in myriad formats, generally jazz-based, but also those involving avant-garde rock and experimental composition. His playing here is tightly focused and highly propulsive. Not unlike what Chris Corsano does when he goes right down the middle.
The pieces on this album are numbered rather than named, but they are not lacking identity. From the first burst of bent notes, Square Peg is boiling. Without horns or reeds or even prominent keys to hang melodic laundry, the music feels like blocks of harmonic interplay shifting around like tectonic plates. Some of the parts where Ismaily plays synth make me think of the communion between Larry Young and John McLaughlin in Tony Williams' Lifetime, but the when Grdina is on oud, the sound is unlike anything I've heard. And it is cool as hell, way beyond what little I know of non-trad oud players (Sandy Bull, John Berberian, Solomon Feldthouse). The textures the ensemble creates are hard to give name to as well. Some parts are definitely jazzoid, others are more like free-rock, still others have an almost avant-folk heft (not unlike the Wall Matthews-led Entourage LPs on Folkways).
In all, it's a great LP on a great new label. And I'm looking forward to what everyone comes up with next." - Byron Coley