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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mark O'Leary & Terje Isungset - Shamanic Voices (FMR, 2007) ****

Earlier in 2007, in one of my reviews, I combined two new albums by Mark O'Leary, and I will do it again now, because the Irish guitarist is as prolific as Ken Vandermark or Satoko Fujii, releasing no less than seven (7) albums in 2007 (Waiting, with Cuong Vu and Tom Rainey, Radio Free Europa with John Herndon and Matt Lux, On the Shore with Alex Cline, John Fumo and Jeff Kaiser, Signs with Alex Cline and Steuart Liebig, Skyshifter with Gunter Muller, an appearance on the White Night Festival CD with Slava Ganelin and Arkady Gotesman). And then now Shamanic voices with Terje Isungset, released on November 28. The great thing about O'Leary is that he is versatile and comfortable in so many different styles, yet manages to keep his own musical language, i.e. he is not showing off his skills, he creates music. And for this project, "ice man" Terje Isungset proves to be an interesting counterpart. Isungset is a percussionist, rather than a drummer, using all kinds of materials to create the most unusual sounds with both extreme clarity or ongoing bustle, which is at the same time rhythmic and a-rhythmic, when his performance sounds like percussive avalanches. He is clearly as interested in the creation of sound as of rhythm. His instruments include stones, bells, wood, gongs, jews harp, next to the more usual instruments. As on Isungset's other albums, this creates a "tribal" feel, and the shamanic incantations are hence obvious through the music, but also very explicit on some tracks when Isungset does some worldless singing. O'Leary alternates between acoustic and electric guitar, playing wonderful and eery plucked chords, with at times surprising harmonics, emphasizing spiritual moments, or speed-of-light electric solos of great intensity but in combination with the drumming, no less spiritual, or he uses the e-bow and electronics for lengthy soundscapes, vaguely reminiscent of Terje Rypdal in his most spacy efforts, over which Isungset creates long-sounding bell-rings and stone-tones. Some of the music is overdubbed, with several layers of percussion and guitar, leading to moments of high energetic and nervous intensity, a perfect counterbalance to the more meditative pieces. Although both musicians keep their own recognizable musical voice, their playing together creates some real innovative sounds and possibilities.

Mark O'Leary - Signs (FMR, 2007) ***½

On "Signs", which was released exactly a year ago, he plays with Steuart Leibig on 6-string electric contrabass and Alex Cline on drums and percussion. The music also bears the O'Leary trademark, but is more jazzy, a little more fusion, especially on "Tilt", the appropriately titled long opening track, on which he unleashes all the speed he can muster, but always in a free-flowing manner, deep-toned, subtle and emotional. But on "Falling", the second track, the mood changes to minimalistic chord progressions of slow single notes, emphasizing each one as if it was something unique and precious, requiring full attention by itself, as if you see a feather or a leaf slowly descending through space, contrasting again with the short chaotic skronk of the next piece. The title song is a long nervous low-toned improvization, with the three musicians at their best, reacting fast, propulsing each other forward, great to hear. The other tracks alternate between more abstract meditative pieces and high-speed fusion, but then of the clever kind, going beyond the usual guitar hero acrobatics.

There are many excellent guitar-players around, but there are very few with the talent to perfectly master the instrument, to have a distinct voice and a clear musical vision at the same time. O'Leary is a musician with a story to tell. That makes listening to him captivating, and well ... he can keep on releasing albums at this pace as far as I'm concerned, because with new sparring partners for each CD he manages to tell a new exciting story, generating through the other players innovative elements each time.