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Gordian Knot

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  • Greek legend speaks of a fellow named Gordius who was made king of Phrygia. To honor Zeus (thunder god!!), Gordius tied his oxcart with a special knot, called the “Gordian knot.” Prophecy foretold that whoever managed to untie this convoluted knot would be rule over all of Asia. In subsequent stories, Alexander the Great was unable to loosen the knot so he took the easy way out and cut it with his sword (clever, eh?). Well, is this important? Maybe not. In some literature, the phrase “cutting the Gordian knot” referred to solving an exceedingly complex problem (usually by bold and crafty measures). The “Gordian knot” itself implies a very formidable challenge. And here we have a group of outstanding musicians under the name Gordian Knot. I may have been spending too much time thinking about the band’s name. Maybe it’s because the twisting time signatures will tie your mind in a knot. Or maybe they’ve found a solution to a difficult problem — combining dazzling technique with engaging songwriting through an original sound. Or maybe appreciating this music is a challenge all its own. Can you cut the Gordian Knot?Anyway, let’s talk about the music. My understanding of this project was that it was started so Sean Malone could flex his talent with the bass guitar and the Chapman Stick, compositionally and musically. He’s been known in technical music circles for a long time for his work with Cynic, the band that fused stormy death metal and jazz. To help him out, he employed Cynic compadre Sean Reinert (drums), King Crimson’s Trey Gunn (a touch guitarist with a cool name), and two relatively unknown guitarists named Ron Jarzombek (from the technical group Watchtower) and Glenn Snelwar. For Snelwar, Gordian Knot is his first recording job. Dream Theater’s bassist John Myung contributes some Chapman Stick of his own on “Srikara Tal” and “Redemption’s Way”. The end result is a superb instrumental project…simply one of the best to enter my collection.The musical content here belies Malone’s past experience with Cynic. There are no death metal stylings on this album, which affirms that the versatility of both Malone and Reinert is very comprehensive. After all, they say “specialization is for insects.” Gordian Knot’s musical world is infinitely grand, and in the end I’m not sure what to call it. I still like the term “prog-fusion,” I guess. The aural totality captures jazz, progressive rock, gentle flamenco, metal, ambient, and much more. Despite the fact that this is Malone’s baby, every member’s contribution is cohesively united with the overall vision. Glenn Snelwar is very impressive, as this is his first real album. Playing acoustic and electric, he sounds starkly original and vibrant. He steals the spotlight at times, especially with his cascading Andalusian phrasing on “Reflections”.Of course, the real star throughout is Malone. His skill is bewildering, as he gracefully straddles the line between a lead musician and a rhythm player. His twisty Stick rhythms and solos on the beautiful chaos of “Rivers Dancing” are amazing to the point of distraction. By no means, however, is this album a shred-fest. “Srikara Tal” is a 10-minute piece devoted almost entirely to a quiet, misty atmosphere, generated by exotic percussion and strains of hypnotizing melody. The unlisted tenth track, “Grace”, is beautifully meditative and pleasant. For those who like it a bit heavier, “Singularity” is a hard-hitting metal/jazz hybrid that blows the mind (even there, however, there is a slow, simmering middle section). On “Megrez”, Trey Gunn (did I mention that’s a cool name? Well, it is) plays through some dark, ambient passages. You’ll even hear Malone adapt some of Bach’s music for the Stick.We must speak with great deference of Mark Prator’s fantastic mix. Mr. Prator is a very successful sound engineer (and a killer drummer) who has worked with many artists, including the thrashy metal band Iced Earth. He can mic the drums like it’s nobody’s business, and every other instrument is warm and crisp. As a final note, in the liner notes, the band has taken a quote from Glenn Gould which should be shared. I think it captures the band’s (or at least Malone’s) mighty Weltangchauung:”The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity. Through the ministrations of radio and the phonograph, we are rapidly and quite properly learning to appreciate the elements of aesthetic narcissism — and I mean that in its best sense — and are awakening to the challenge that each man contemplatively create his own divinity.”Now I’m suffering carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand because of this review, so I will desist at this point.

    Posted on November 14, 2009