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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mark O'Leary - Live In Helsinki (Re:KonstruKt, 2009) ****

Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary has been featured quite substantially before on this blog, because he's not only a gifted guitarist, versatile in the jazz traditions, in fusion, electronics or noise, yet also restlessly searching for new sounds and new possibilities to express emotions and thoughts. He has played with some of the best modern jazz musicians, including Tomasz Stanko, Matthew Shipp, Sunny Murray, Steve Swallow, Uri Caine, to name but a few, but he's also been open enough to work with some unknown Turkish musicians. On these two new albums, he ventures much  further and deeper into the sonic territory that his great example Terje Rypdal set the first explorative steps for.

"Live In Helsinki" finds him in the company of Olavi Louhivuori on drums and percussion, and Teppo Hauta-Aho on bass. Louhivuori is the acclaimed drummer of the current Tomasz Stanko Quintet, and Hauta-Aho is one of the leading Finnish bassists, equally comfortable in classical settings as in the European free improv scene, including collaborations with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens. Although you would expect your regular jazz guitar trio, the music is not exactly that. The trio explores sound, and that includes endless stretching of notes, electronically altered, in dialogue with arco bass and a crackling percussive backdrop. Once in a while O'Leary plays his guitar in regular style, as in "Lost In Snow", first low-toned, then as the tension increases, with increasing distortion. O'Leary does not even hesitate to include some boppish elements even, as in "O", but the most beautiful piece is the slow opener "Vesala" dedicated to the Finnish drummer Edvard Vesala, on which the slow wailing guitar and the arco bass interact in a sad dance. Hauta-Aho's arco starts the equally haunting "Helsinki", quite reminiscent of some of the passages of "Rypdal, Vitous, DeJohnette", a stellar album on ECM. "Sibelius" is more avant-garde, with very nervous playing by O'Leary's clean low-toned sound, with bird-like background noises. "O" is raw and more violent, with distorted fusion sounds and irregular rhythms, while "Omega" brings us back to the beginning, closing the circle of stretched atmospheric sounds. A strong performance and strong record too.

Listen and download from iTunes.

Mark O'Leary, Passborg, Riis - Grønland (Aucourant Records, 2009)

 Even though still a part of Denmark, in 2009 Greenland received self-determination for judicial, police and natural resources. Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary creates a wonderful electronic opus for the country, together with Danish musicians Stefan Pasborg on drums and Jakob Riis on electronics. The end result is a terryfing soundscape of ethereal beauty, evocating temperatures you can only fear and endless ice plains that you would never dare venture into. Driven by Pasborg's drumming, both O'Leary and Friis weave a tapestry of sound that is both distant and attractive, without any melody, repetition or anchor points. This is not jazz at all, but still a musical feat that you can only listen to in admiration. Despite the quite slow horizontal development of the music, it is captivating and fascinating. The long last piece "Nuuk" is absolutely impressive.

Listen and download from iTunes and eMusic.

© stef