Mark O'Leary: Flux and Shamanic Voices

Eyal Hareuveni By

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These two releases by the exceptional Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary feature him at his best. On two undated sessions, O'Leary paired himself with singular yet highly collaborative musicians. The meetings which followed recalibrated O'Leary's playing away from its usual avant-fusion inclination and towards a new form of freer expressive articulation.

Mark O'Leary/Dylan Van Der Schyff/Wayne Horvitz

O'Leary has recorded before with pianists—on Chamber Trio with Matthew Shipp and on Closure with Uri Caine (both on Leo Records, 2005)—but the meeting with Seattle-based pianist Wayne Horvitz, that was recorded on Seattle, is completely different. Unlike the former recordings that attempted to create a resolutely modern jazz vibe, this recording, true to its title, instead attempts—and succeeds beautifully—in creating a gentle, flowing ambiance. It delivers minimalist and spare textures, in which Horvitz and the Canadian drummer Dylan van der Schyff use their instruments for color and timbral depth, and in which O'Leary's playing is contemplative and subdued.

The 15 short tracks dissolve into each other like a series of expressionist sonic miniatures, often abstract with no discernible solos or clear rhythmic patterns or melodic themes. But still they deliver rich and nuanced textures. The intimate interplay between O'Leary, Horvitz and Van Der Schyff has a true emotional impact and the coherent and patient feeling of this recording offers a unique and rewarding listening experience.

Mark O'Leary/Terje Isungset
Shamanic Voices

This meeting with Norwegian master percussionist Terje Isungset is a much more versatile session, and one of the best in O'Leary's rich history of musical meetings. Isungset possesses an idiosyncratic musical language that often uses natural elements—wood, ice, wind, stone—as sources for a sophisticated language that combines ancient folk leanings with unfettered improvisation. For this meeting, recorded in O'Leary's home base in Cork, the guitarist came equipped with four different guitars and electronics, while Isungset stuck to his varied set of ordinary percussion instruments plus stones and wood.

Isungset opens the session with percussive ripples, with no clear rhythm, opting for raw sounds that stimulate O'Leary's response. On the first two tracks, O'Leary doesn't entirely succeed in finding true interplay with Isungset, but by the third tune the two have found substantial common ground. O'Leary begins a gentle folkish acoustic guitar, and then moves to fast atmospheric lines on the electric instrument, while Isungset lays down avant-tribal rhythms. Isungset cleverly uses spare minimal sounds to accentuate O'Leary meditative plucking on "Altar Of Stones," but he also knows how to use minimal metallic sounds to create a mysterious and threatening drama on "Vardlokker."

You can feel the influence of 1970s and 1980s ECM releases on O'Leary, and his acoustic guitar pays dues to Ralph Towner and even to Steve Eliovson, while his playing on the electric guitar suggests a close studying of the discography of Terje Rypdal. But the meeting with Isungset does not deliver the often chilly, overly mannered feel of many ECM releases. This one offers risk, mystery, drama and free expression, by two musicians who in their own ways keep striving to perfect their art.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Entrance; Be Careful What You Wish For; Vacant; Contextual; Vadalfjol; Beyond The Abyss; Verdant; Flux; Evolution; Cantus; If You Ask Me; New England Chronicles; Pensive; Other Room; Rubikon.

Personnel: Mark O'Leary: guitar; Dylan Van Der Schyff: drums, percussion; Wayne Horvitz: piano, prepared piano.

Shamanic Voices

Tracks: Rainmaker; Vardlokker; Natturer; Skjold; Faoi draoicht; White moon; Fire Ritual; Fifth world; Oracle; Altar of stone; Seidr; Dancing with the Wolf.

Personnel: Mark O'Leary: electric guitar, electric baritone guitar, acoustic 12-string baritone guitar, tabletop guitar, e-bow, electronics, samples; Terje Isungset: drums, percussion, wood stones, voice.


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