Date: 09/14/2010 Print This Post

Contemporary World Music Guitarist Pierre Bensusan Celebrates his 35th Year as a Recording Artist and Debuts ‘Vividly’




Playing Regularly Throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia,
Guitar Player Magazine’s 2008
“Best World Music Guitar Player”

Returns To The U.S. For A Multiple-DateTour In Winter 2011


Pierre Bensusan’s debut album Près de Paris, released 35 years ago, launched one of contemporary world music’s most extraordinary, multi-faceted careers for an instrumental guitarist. Bensusan, a French-Algerian artist globally known as the “Mozart of Guitar,” is still conquering the world with his renowned melodic and rhythmic strings, while touring regularly throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.

Two years after winning Guitar Player Magazine Reader’s Choice Award as the “Best World Music Guitar Player”—and eight years after Bensusan’s album Intuite won the American Association of Independent Music’s “Best Acoustic Album of 2002”—the guitarist celebrates an incredible three and a half decades with an album whose title perfectly reflects his gratitude and deeply intuitive approach to life and music—Vividly.

While he’s happy to explain that the English word derives from the French word “vivid,” meaning the inner life of things you don’t always see but you can feel, the title track was named for Pat Milliken, his late road manager in California, who would use that term regularly to describe moments of intense joy while traveling from gig to gig. “He also used words like ‘epic’ and ‘good times,’ little phrases that spoke of jubilation,” Bensusan says.

“The music on Vividly, both the instrumentals and vocals, reflect that jubilation. “My hope is always to create music that becomes part of the fabric of people’s lives and ultimately a great companion for their lives. I never tell people to stop everything and listen. It’s there for your enjoyment and it won’t disturb you, but if you do stop and pay closer attention, you might be magically roped into something you could not have imagined.”

One of the key people that Bensusan and Vividly have emotionally lassoed is three-time Grammy Award winner and master guitarist Steve Vai, who has worked with fellow electric guitar monsters like Frank Zappa and Joe Satriani and also toured with Ozzy Osbourne, finds Bensusan’s acoustic style equally irresistible. Vividly will be released in the U.S. and Canada on Vai’s label Favored Nations.

“Listening to Pierre play the guitar is like floating on a mountain lake with the light of the full moon softly glimmering on the ripples,” Vai says. “It’s always been the goal of Favored Nations to create a home for artists that are independent in their career, confident in their work and inspired with their vision. Pierre has always been all of that and more.”

Bensusan’s legion of fans in the U.S. will get to share that dreamily rhythmic, “floating” experience early in 2011, when the guitarist returns for a 9-week Stateside tour beginning in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on January 16 at Caffe’ Lena and showcasing at Passim in Cambridge, Mass. outside of Boston on January 19. The guitarist heads to Portland, Maine on January 20 for a special performance in One Longfellow Square and travels south to Islamorada, Fla. to perform at the TIB Amphitheater on February 3. Bensusan then moves west with two early February shows at McCabe’s in Santa Monica (Feb. 6).  His itinerary includes numerous stops in California, including Soho Restaurant and Music Club in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Feb. 9), Coalesce Bookstore in Los Osos, Calif. (Feb. 11), Castoro Cellars in Templeton, Calif. (Feb. 12), Coolwater Concerts in Ahwahnee, Calif. (Feb. 13), Don Quixote’s Int’l Music Hall in Felton, Calif. (Feb. 16) and Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, Calif. (Feb. 17). Continuing on at Waters Cultural Center in Hillsboro, Ore. (Feb. 19), Dosie Doe in Woodlands, Texas (March 3), Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga. (March 6), parts of the South, and will wrap up  in the Great Lakes region ending with a performance and workshop at the Michigan Fingerstyle Guitar Society in Ferndale, Michigan (March 11 and 12).

Bensusan is always pleased to appear at events that celebrate fingerstyle guitarists—yet he has never liked stylistic labels for himself that limit the possibilities and appeal of his multi-faceted music. Still, he says, all the musical magic that he’s created over the years begins in his fingers, which are always receptive to his ongoing musical inspiration. Over the years, this has led to fascinating recording endeavors exploring the worlds of American bluegrass and folk music, Celtic music and North African rhythms.

“I love touring because sometimes even when I’m onstage, new ideas come to my fingers and I begin feeling new ways to feel the piece of music,” he says. “The music on the new album blends a little jazz and a little folk mixed together like a painting that incorporates elements of many things. When the muse hits, I always want to be putting my fingers where it makes sense, not simply where it is most comfortable. The instrument takes me many places and I have to stay vigilant to make sure that every note is originating from a place of genuine musical intention. The music takes on a life of its own, and I have to be ready when it speaks up. Then I incubate that moment and let the music marinate for a long time before committing it to a recording. I love that moment where everything comes together all in my imagination, like a silent movie playing that is both vivid and brilliant.”

The liner notes to Vividly, which was recorded in Bensusan’s countryside home studio near Chateau-Thierry, an hour east of Paris, perfectly express the beautiful and wide range of musical emotions that Bensusan taps into each song, many of which he says had been “incubating” for a remarkable 25 years: “Vividly gives voice to all facets of a vast world, one of emotion without artifice, a serene world – flowing and ample – which aptly reflects the universe of an artist in constant evolution.”

The artistic core of Vividly is Bensusan’s series of thoughtful, rhythmic guitar instrumentals, including the title track, “Kiss Landing,” “Veilleuse (Night Light),” “Pirogue,” “Coup dans l’Eau,” and “Astres & Gnomes,” all of which are lush yet intimate expressions in which pure emotion craftily disguises the guitarist’s rich virtuosity. The title “Dagdad Café” is more than a play on the renowned independent film “Bagdad Café”—it’s a reference to his traditional use of DADGAD (also known as D-modal or Celtic) tuning, which is accomplished by tuning the first, second and sixth strings down a whole tone (two and a half steps).  Bensusan is the renowned world master of this tuning. Two tracks feature the exotic touch of the erhu, a Chinese violin, played by Gan Guo, master of the instrument: the love song “The In Between” about the evolution of a romantic relationship (sung by Bensusan in English) and “La Blanche Biche,” whose title refers to a Celtic myth about a woman turning into a deer at night.

Bensusan explores his vocal passions more than ever on Vividly, giving the album a new dynamic, with heartfelt and often whimsical results. “Le Chien Qui Tourne” is a fun little yarn about the way his dog keeps turning around and around. “Pas Sage” (The Wise Step) is a unique reflection on the transformation in music, giving the track a very reminiscent style of a tango. “La Java Du Concessionaire” weaves in music from his “Musette” heritage, the Paris accordion music that his father’s generation listened to and which Bensusan grew up with. The song entails an exaggerated story about a misfortune with a car breakdown.

Bensusan describes Vividly’s concluding masterpiece “Les Places De Liberte” as “a song about freedom, tolerance, immigration, integration, humanity and brave people and the situation of women in the world.” It is a call to remind the world what France has always stood for, welcoming others and opening the values of freedom and tolerance to the world, allowing equal opportunity for all. He dedicates the song to the Algerian writer Djemila Benhabib, a brave woman who has spoken out for the cause of women in the oppressive Arabic culture.

Many of the songs on Vividly were penned by Bensusan’s wife and co-producer Doatea Cornu Bensusan. The most fully produced track on the album features renowned Malian vocalist Mah Damba, the “Golden Voice of Mali”, an upright bass, percussion textures, trumpet and flugelhorn, and several other singers.

“The title of the song in English is ‘Freedom Squares,’ and that means all markers of revolutions that lead to freedom in different countries,” the guitarist says. “My wife wanted to use that metaphor to talk about immigration, racism, xenophobia and women in the world. We were also inspired by the plight of Bulgarian & Romanian gypsies who were sent back into an extremist climate after trying to escape to freedom. It’s a very powerful song for the times we are living in, with an anthem-like refrain. I’m not a political singer by nature. I’m an entertainer, but there are certain things as an artist that I cannot ignore.”

Mah was more than touched by that song as it exactly reflects her family’s situation. Mah sings in her native tongue.  It was Bensusan’s desire for her to sing a capella the last note of the album.

“As with every track on Vividly and those I have recorded throughout my career,” Bensusan adds, “I simply want to touch people through music and put them in the right place to better appreciate the beauty of life, even in times of strife. A lot of guitarists and guitar students like to focus on my technique, and I appreciate that, but I never set out to prove anything in that area. At heart, I am a storyteller who likes to take chances and surprise people. I work with tensions and contrasts, space movements and different arrangements of notes, but what’s most important is putting people in a frame of mind that allows them to take a step back from the day to day and feel better about their lives.”