There have been many losses as a result of COVID-19. For music audiences here in Vermont and elsewhere, there have been lots of canceled concerts. Pierre Bensusan, the French guitarist, a frequent visitor to the state, was scheduled for three concerts in April, along his five-month tour of North America, now all canceled.
Bensusan’s new album “Azwan” was recorded in preparation for this tour, his first in three years. We were lucky enough to get an advance copy.
“During a three year hiatus from international touring,” Bensusan writes in a news release. “I have been writing new material and perfecting my guitar-playing for this new instrumental CD.”
“Azwan” is a lovely album to listen to. It is full of warmth, lots familiar to Bensusan fans, guitar flourishes, and touches of the music he has been creating since 1975 when his first album, “Pres de Paris,” was released. The Algerian-born French-raised musician, now 63, shows no signs of diminished talent nor does he appear to be resting on his laurels as he continues to add tasteful music to his extensive discography.
Bensusan has always seemed at the top of his game, even at 17 when his first album appeared. Thus, it’s hard to imagine that he needs to be perfecting his guitar playing. As a master guitarist, who once told this writer that “I’m the music” and the guitar is just the amplifier, this new album brings nuances and subtle rather than broad changes to his style.
This artist’s music represents a variety of influences from jazz, swing, French ballads to Flamenco, Arabic-Andalusia, Gypsy, musette and tango to Celtic and, yes, even American bluegrass. Only his most ardent fans, this writer included, know that a teenage Bensusan at age 15 played mandolin in banjoist Bill Keith’s European touring band in the early 1970s.
The key to understanding Bensusan’s sound is twofold. He plays an Irish-built Lowden guitar. He’s had this instrument since the late 1970s and, except for a few years when he played a different Lowden, this guitar and its player seem to have combined their DNA, as they sound as one entity.
Second in importance to his sound is his use solely of DADGAD guitar tuning. This retuning from standard has become very popular, especially with Celtic musicians in the past four decades. Bensusan, using this as his standard tuning, creates melodies and harmonies that have a unique sound.
On “Azwan,” this all comes together in a dozen tracks and 52 minutes of music. Bensusan and his co-producer David Bevan add a smattering of upright bass played by Stephane Kerecki, nylon-strung guitar by Jean-Marie Ecay, and alto and violin by Christophe Craver. These contributors add just a bit of flavoring to the recording, on a few tracks.
For his part, Bensusan vocalizes on several tracks but does not sing any songs, though he has a fine voice. The playlist covers comforting meditative folk-oriented songs like “Fils de la rose” and “Azwan,” a bit of Celtic on “Return to Ireland” along with touches of jazz and other European influences.
Bensusan is about as complete a musician as there is. Perhaps he needed three years off from the road, and now apparently another year as the virus rages. With “Azwan,” recorded in late 2019, we hear a mature artist, and an assured performer at the top of his game.
Hopefully, Pierre Bensusan will be able to travel soon so we can hear “Azwan” in live performance.
Pierre Bensusan’s “Azwan” is available at www.pierrebensusan.com, the artist’s website.