On the Shore
With On the Shore, Mark O’Leary demonstrates that even beautiful music can bore the hell out of you. The Irish guitarist and his quartet—percussionist Alex Cline, trumpeters John Fumo and Jeff Kaiser—create an atmospheric soundscape that conjures images of O’Leary’s Cork Harbour home; while many of its parts are absolutely gorgeous, their sum has little to no direction and is often deadly slow.
The drums are an obvious problem. Cline, who has astonishing prowess and creativity, beats on shells, sticks and stones as well as traps; unfortunately, he uses them mostly for color—very thin color. Headphones are often required (as on “Vespers”) to even know he’s there. Where he does have a weighty attack (“Staring at the Sun”), it generates a momentum that’s welcome, but unsure of itself.
Cline doesn’t deserve all the blame. The compositions themselves abhor kinesis: In “Evening,” Kaiser, Fumo and O’Leary play fugal three-note phrases that falsely promise a high point for the album; the surrounding material is pretty, but aimless as driftwood. Further, O’Leary’s bravura guitar runs, residing somewhere between poly- and atonality, tend to just spin their wheels. The band’s one truly engaging moment is the aggressive second half of “Point Sketch,” but that requires withstanding four minutes of numbness before it even starts to get going.
In fairness to On the Shore, it may simply be too successful in evoking the seashore—a place of quiet and tranquility. The disc mesmerizes, but sometimes all that mesmerizing puts the audience to sleep.