Gordon Grdina Credit: Peter Gannushkin

One of the things that sustains my admiration for Vancouver jazz guitarist Gordon Grdina is that he places himself within a seemingly endless variety of contexts. Plenty of musicians who compartmentalize different sides of their work can appear to suffer from split personalities, but Grdina has a distinctive knack for sating his curiosity in many projects while always sounding like himself. I first heard his music more than a decade ago; his debut album was with a hushed trio that included bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian. Since then he’s more often embraced an aggressive, bruising attack, as when collaborating with Mats Gustafsson in a free context or exploring hard-rock-driven terrain with his longtime drummer Kenton Loewen in the duo Peregrine Falls. Last year Grdina released Inroads (Songlines), a quartet effort with reedist Oscar Noriega, pianist Ross Lossing, and drummer Satoshi Takeishi. The group’s output lands on either side of the chamberlike feel of his early trio: complex, slaloming pieces that provide a hothouse environment for charged improvisation on one hand, and atmospheric works that privilege color and mood on the other. Whether Grdina is playing guitar or oud, everything makes sense together. On his forthcoming solo record, China Cloud, he ranges just as widely, crafting cinematic tone poems drenched in reverb, gnarled oud reveries steeped in brittle twang, and a tender jazz ballad. He sings on the pensive folk tune “A Doll’s House,” which ends the album—a rarity from the instrumental-focused musician. Tonight he returns to Chicago for two sets of improvisations with percussionist Michael Zerang, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, and other guests.   v