The ‘Mozart of the guitar’ kicks off a U.S. tour in West Michigan this week, unfurling uncategorizable music and subtle virtuosity. Read the Local Spins interview, get details about this week’s concerts.
“Bensusan may be known as ‘the Mozart of the guitar’ and is worthy of the title, but he takes after no one.” – UKTheatre.net
“One of the most distinctive and influential guitarists.” – The Washington Post
“Whenever the name ‘Pierre Bensusan’ is mentioned to a guitarist, guitar fan, or anyone seriously into music, their response is always one of awe, reverence, and enchanted bewilderment.” – The Galway Times
He may not be a household name, but there’s no doubt Pierre Bensusan is well-regarded by those in the know, both fans and fellow musicians.
Bensusan kicks off a solo U.S. tour with two West Michigan shows this week. He performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Sleder’s Family Tavern, 717 Randolph St., in Traverse City ($20 advance, $25 day of show) and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Harris Building, 111 S. Division Ave., in Grand Rapids ($20 advance, $25 day of show; tickets available online here).
The tour will take him across the Midwest and West, including Milwaukee, St. Louis, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and more.
It’s a way of life for Bensusan, who has been performing professionally for more than 40 years. “It’s like time is suspended,” he says of being on the road. “You appreciate the world and its different cultures. Music has been the bridge for us to do so. I wouldn’t have been traveling if not for music.”
Fortunately for him, and for his audiences, he has been traveling, performing across the globe. “Music straddles many cultures. We don’t need to define it,” he said.
Which is good, because categorizing his music is nearly impossible. It touches upon Celtic, new age, classical, jazz, world music and folk. Perhaps the non-category “new acoustic music” works best, given that it describes the instrumentation rather than style. But even that’s not entirely accurate, as he’s played electric and electric-acoustic guitars, at times alongside electric bass or keyboards.
A TRIBUTE TO THE LATE MICHAEL HEDGES; EMBRACING ALTERNATE TUNING
No matter. On this tour, it’s all Bensusan, all the time, playing his Lowden signature guitar. And if it sounds like a single guitar and occasional vocal might be lacking, rest assured that’s not the case.
“There’s an orchestra in the guitar,” Bensusan said in a recent phone interview from his home outside Paris. In his hands, that’s certainly true.
This conversation took place two days after the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bensusan sees the tumult and turmoil in the world and seeks to address it, at least in part, through his music. “The world is leaning toward chaos,” he said. “When there are horrible events, what else can we do? Is music enough? As musicians we try to find beauty and compassion.”
Bensusan, 59, himself is a fan of other guitarists, some of whom he has performed with. The list includes Philip Catherine, Tommy Emmanuel, and the late Larry Coryell, the lattermost of whom introduced Bensusan to fellow French guitarist Bireli Lagrene. “We met at an airport,” recalled Bensusan. “He introduced me to Bireli.”
He also performed with the late, lamented virtuoso Michael Hedges on occasion. “We did four shows together in the U.S., one international,” said Bensusan. While Hedges’ virtuosity was dazzling, Bensusan’s is more subtle. Hedges would thrill audiences; Bensusan draws them in.
Hedges recorded “Bensusan” for Pierre on his album Aerial Boundaries; Bensusan returned the favor following Hedges’s tragic death in an auto accident with “So Long Michael.”
Bensusan employs an unusual tuning. Standard tuning is E, A, D, G, B, and E; Bensusan tunes his guitar to DADGAD, and has even named his publishing company for it. Asked why he chose the alternate tuning, Bensusan said coming from piano, it seemed the best way for him to play. He’s also said he likes the mystical and romantic quality it provides.
“I’m self-taught, and I came across that (tuning). I tried others and got so confused. I had to step back and choose one. I made DADGAD my standard tuning.”
Mystical. Romantic. The Mozart of guitar. Sounds about right.
VIDEO: Pierre Bensusan, “Night Song”
VIDEO: Pierre Bensusan, “Voyage for Ireland”
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC