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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mark O'Leary - On The Shore (Clean Feed, 2007) *****

I have already praised Mark O'Leary before for his great sense of music, and he proves it again on this record, and how! With Alex Cline on drums and a double trumpet front line consisting of Jeff Kaiser and John Fumo, the line-up is definitely unusual (apart from Jacek Kochan's "Another Blowfish", with Eric Vloeimans and Piotr Wojtasik on trumpet, I'm not aware of any other quartet with a double trumpet front line). The music on this record is light, spacious, elegant, ... I would almost say the musical equivalent of high quality champagne, very tasty, with bubbles, something to savour with every sip. The guitar plays a very prominent role on the whole CD, often with a very low tone, reminiscent of some of John Abercrombie's albums, but more avant-garde, more creative, with the two trumpets and the drums adding shades of sound that bring depth and sculptural relief to the music, even if they're pushed a little to the back in the sound editing, a nice touch which adds to the overall atmosphere. The whole quartet is absolutely brilliant. Alex Cline's playing is precise, accurate, accentuating loosely, performing the difficult feat of drumming on music that is essentially without explicit rhythm. The two trumpets use every shade and sound their instruments can produce, in various intensities, volume changes and lengths, because there is mostly no melody to hear - texture, tonal changes and contrast is all there is, especially exemplified by the long title track. O'Leary himself gets every possible sound out of his guitar as well, and whether it's plain acoustic, or one of the many effects on his electric guitar, his playing is not focused on the playing itself but on the musical moods he creates, and it's also coherent throughout the album, regardless of how he uses his instrument. O'Leary doesn't hesitate to push his foot switches once in a while, bringing sorching fusion-like solos, pushing the trumpets and the drums to high levels of intensity as in "Point Sketch", but most of the music is subdued, tentative, fragile, creating open-ended soundscapes, composed with skill and feeling, building layers of music to create a very distinct mood, which is nostalgic, sad, but also reverent, jubilant or mysterious at times.You can hear seagulls and whales, or even sirens, the surf in the distance, or lapping waves close-by, ... that's how evocative the music is without needing to try to imitate those sounds. Another mystery of the record is whether it has been dubbed or not (that's the problem or disadvantage of downloading, there are no liner notes to guide you in your appreciation). Most of it sounds too beautiful to be the result of spontaneous improvization, too carefully crafted to have been left to chance, but then again, it sounds too open to be composed, and these are great musicians, so you can't tell. One could also argue whether this is jazz or not, but asking the question is irrelevant. Answering it even more. This is absolutely excellent music. That's the most important thing.

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david_grundy said...

Hi there, just stumbled across your blog and have to say that the reviews are very well written, balanced and sober while making you want to hear the music! Anyway, I'm in the process of startin up a free jazz/improv-focussed magazine, and I'm looking for contributors. Would you be willing to let me reprint some of these reviews in the pages of the magazine? You can let me know either way at the email address on my blogger profile. Thanks once again.

Stef said...

David, I can't find your e-mail address on your blog.
Please let me know.

david_grundy said...

Sorry, I thought I'd put in on my blogger profile before. It's on there now: in case you still can't find it, it's