Pierre Bensusan


"On Pierre Bensusan's Altiplanos, his second album for Favored Nations, a label mostly known for its shameless electric guitar pyrotechnics, the French acoustic guitar hero offers a graceful unplugged alternative. Never mind that the set opens with the lovely lyrical piece Sentimentales Pyromaniaques. This time out Bensusan takes a different tack than on his 2001 CD, Intuite, a more purely solo acoustic venture. On "Sur un Fil" and Sylva, he dips into multitracking layers, with loops and percussive effects adding up to an atmospheric attitude.

Elsewhere, he adds his warm, understated singing voice, as on La Nuit des Meteores, originally an instrumental from his 1987 CBS Masterworks debut, and on Demain, des L'Aube, set to a text from Victor Hugo. Singing and whistling perk up the medley called Falafel a Montsegur.

Despite the occasional deviations from the standard man-and-his-acoustic-guitar format, it is his guitar work that most impresses. Although playing in the open DADGAD tuning, Bensusan pushes into more venturesome harmonic terrain than many open-tuning players. On his latest, Bensusan fulfills expectations, coaxing from his guitar a beautiful sound, full of rippling and ringing tones, while also flexing a higher degree of all-over musicality than many in the acoustic guitar universe."
Josef Woodard, JazzTimes (USA)
Acoustic Axis column, from the July/August 2006 issue

"The guitarist's supple lines and delicately flowing musical pastiches offer asymmetrical parts; innocence and optimism. And his lyrically rich themes are augmented by a robust tone, to complement his whispery vocalizations. Elsewhere, Bensusan and associates conjure up a world music type vibe, amid jazzy motifs and dream-laden balladry. In addition, Bensusan intermingles subtle intricacies with near-effortless execution via a mélange of heartening chord voicings and resonating single note lines. (Exuberantly recommended.)"
Jazzreview.com (USA)

Bensusan Brings Aural Treats
"It’s no wonder I think about food whenever I hear Pierre Bensusan’s new CD, Altiplanos: the Algerian-born guitarist and singer is an accomplished chef, to the point of including his own recipes for pumpkin soup and herbed shad in his brilliant instruction manual, The Guitar Book. Then again, I think about a lot of things when I listen to Bensusan. Obviously, I think about his remarkable technique, and the way in which he can approach any given note a hundred different ways; I think about how beautiful his guitar sounds, and how effortlessly he navigates even the most technically demanding passages. But I also think of the way sunlight shines through a glass of Pinot Gris; of the brilliant blue and yellow fields of flax and mustard that line a certain dirt road outside of Drumheller, Alberta; and of lying in the tall grass of a Gulf Islands Park, watching shooting stars flare overhead on a warm August night. Bensusan’s music is infinitely evocative; he has the rare gift of being able to convey his own thoughts and memories in sound, while awakening the listener’s own. And, most of all, he has the ability to give those who hear him a great deal of pleasure.
Pleasure is underrated in contemporary music, written off as the terrain of radio pop or the kind of easy-listening pap marketed to people who really don’t care what they hear so long as it’s sweet. But music is capable of conveying much deeper joys: the joy of touch, of spiritual intoxication, and, yes, of fine cooking, which is also the joy of being sustained by the land and the sea. Bensusan, more than most musicians, is acutely conscious of those options—and, of course, of all the other pleasures life has to offer."
"Some wines have a very short history; some don’t have a history at all,” he says by way of explanation, calling from a New York City tour stop. “You drink and that’s it; there’s nothing more than the immediate taste that you had in your mouth. Some others will require time or specific treatment in order to appreciate them, but they will have an after-story, which is going to be all the tremendous pleasures that we have when we drink wine.
"I think the same would apply for music. Some music has an immediate effect. It leaves nothing in you, but other music makes you think, makes you vibrate, makes you enter into resonance not only with what you hear, but also with your inner, with your deeper feelings. I don’t know what the music I play evokes in people, but what I can tell you is that when I play I feel that the audience is extremely receptive and attentive. Attentive at least, and sometimes completely captivated by the stories that I am evoking with the music."
Bensusan’s comments might seem pretentious if they weren’t delivered with such warmth and grace—and if they weren’t true. He is a hypnotic performer, as you can find out for yourself at the Capilano College Performing Arts Theatre on Friday (September 30). And perhaps the key to his art is that it starts with his own desire to please himself. He loves beauty, but he also loves a challenge, and the combination of those two desires has made for consistently interesting music.
"I think the music has to speak directly,” he says. “It has to be very, very straightforward. But at the same time it has to have layers of information that, if you want, you can go to and enjoy. At the same time, within a concert or within a record, I believe in contrast and balance, so that tunes do not conflict with each other. So that there should be relief, moments of vulnerability, moments where you are completely possessed by what you hear, and moments where you can let it go for a while and rest before coming back into those moments of intensity.”
Perhaps that’s why Altiplanos, which includes all those qualities, is such a satisfactory record.
“When I listen to it myself, I really try to remember my first perception of the music,” Bensusan says. “And I understand why I was doing it: it was for the pleasure of listening. I like to play, and I like to become a better musician and a better guitar player, but at the end of the day it’s just about feeling yourself listening to music—and that is bringing us back to your first statement, about pleasure. I think the pleasure has to be something that we—the player and the listener—both have to feel in common."
"Guitarist Pierre Bensusan creates a gentle mood on this, his tenth solo album. Applying fingerstyle technique to soft ballads and lyrical ramblings, he sets his original compositions on the table for casual contemplation. Each piece flows smoothly with emotion, as a treasured folk song would carry out its purpose on its listening audience.
Singing in French, he tosses off a timeless message that carries its meaning to all corners of the world. All nations have this one experience in common: singing about life in general and our cares in particular. Bensusan reminds us that life has promise. Singing about it puts our minds at ease.
Bensusan's guitar can persuade. His gospel interpretation of If Only You Knew carries deep feeling. Hymn 11 offers a gentle meditative remedy, while Sylva ("forest" in Latin) provides vivid impressions of a jungle, complete with electronic tampering and wordless vocals. With his brief jungle escapade, Bensusan immerses himself in a colorful scene that's painted with a variety of musical textures.
His heartfelt French vocals on La Nuit des Météores and Demain dès L'Aube carry a torch for sensual expression. Bensusan's smooth voice complements his delicate fingerstyle guitar presentation.
His scat singing and exotic guitar melodies take Falafel à Montségur to Algeria, Bensusan's birthplace. Slapping the body of his hollow guitar for effect, he derives a wide range of expressive characteristics. It's the album's high point.
Chant de Nuit returns to the session's formula of folk songs done up in a smooth jazz format. The artist leaves a lasting impression that runs smooth and gentle, while reminding us that this universal language reaches far and wide all over the world."
The Georgia Straight (Canada)

"There is only a handful of guitar players who have taken the sound of John Fahey, Leo Kottke, and Bert Jansch to another level. Michael Hedges was one. Pierre Bensusan is another. The French guitarist was all the rage in the 1980s with his intricate finger-style picking, lush melodies, and influences that ranged from Ireland to India. Pianist George Winston sang his praises and Michael Hedges named a song after him. The buzz may have waned over the last 20 years, but Bensusan has only grown more impressive as a player. Altiplanos finds the guitarist in rare form with songs that are marvels of internal logic and whimsical digressions. He seems to be carrying on interior conversations, but he does it all with such technical ease and melodic grace that it never sounds contrived, however knotty it becomes. Bensusan is a willful individualist,... in a mostly solo acoustic guitar CD that may well be Pierre Bensusan's definitive guitar album."
John Diliberto, Amazon.com (USA)

"For Altiplanos, ... Bensusan's remarkable technical ability has never been in question, but it's the sheer musicality and lyricism of his body of work that has cemented his position as one of the most accomplished acoustic guitarists on the planet. Altiplanos, with its combination of solo, multitracked and ensemble pieces, simply reaffirms and builds upon Bensusan's already stellar reputation."
The Georgia Straight (Canada)

Solo Splendors
"Jazz keyboardist Keith Jarrett turns 60 and celebrates with Radiance (ECM), a double-disc set of improvisations from two Japanese concerts." A-
"Master acoustic guitarist Pierre Bensusan is on his own, distinctive Altiplanos (Favored Nations), weaving wispy, baroque, cool jazz and Gaelic/Gypsy/olde English folk forms into a lovely lyrical tapestry." B+
Philadelphia Daily News-Yo Features (USA)

"There's no two ways about it, if you like guitar records, you have to think Bensusan makes cool records. He's been at it awhile and he always does it right. A finger style set that purely top shelf, Bensusan brings in some interesting guests with interesting resumes, but at the end of the day, he's the centerpiece of this captivating outing. Loaded with creativity, but never just for the sake of it, this is the work of a pro that you're always in good hands with."
Midwest records Recap (USA)

"Combining a classical musician’s technique with a jazz player's improvisational flexibility, Pierre Bensusan is one of the most gifted acoustic guitarists today-and, unlike many of his labelmates on rock god Steve Vai's Favored Nations imprint, he understands that too much virtuosity can be as mind-numbingly banal as none at all. Consequently, when he delves into two-handed tapping, as he does on the Moroccan-flavoured Sur un Fil, it's not to dazzle his fellow pickers, but to seduce with fluid, gnawa-inspired rhythms. Similarly, his artificial harmonics on Tacita are not used to show how dextrous he is, but to establish a lighter-than-air cushion for former Gong saxophonist Didier Malherbe's breathy duduk, a kind of Armenian clarinet. And, when the mood calls for it, he's not above resorting to simple, strummed chords, as he does on the wistful Chant de Nuit: he's more concerned with making beautiful music than with digital calisthenics.
Which is not to say that the musicians in Bensusan's audience won't occasionally be shocked into full attentiveness by the kind of playing that suggests he was born with three hands. Most of the time, however, Altiplanos drifts by like a pleasant dream: it's a white-wine, dinner-on-the-deck kind of disc, but one with considerable musical depth beneath its chiffon surface."
Allaboutjazz.com (USA)

"Altiplanos is not your average guitar record, folk record, or new age sojourn; nor does it seem an attempt to cover a number of genres in the hopes of being something for everyone, yet I cannot imagine a flag bearer from any one of these camps who could give this a quick listen and set it aside for a rainy day; it’s that good. Always full of surprises, Pierre pushes the envelope once more with Altiplanos: a tender – sweet musical treatise that cajoles as well as calms. His voice is used to great effect on this recording, both as instrument and lyrical vehicle, and the range of emotion he achieves on the instrument is only slightly shadowed by the techniques employed to achieve them (the guitarists out there will either be inspired or frightened). This record is a monumental achievement; one that will surely set its place in music history."
Penguin Eggs (Canada)

"Ten albums on, and French acoustic fingerstyle guitarist, Pierre Bensusan is about as far from autopilot mode as the Cistine chapel is from Andy Warhol's soup cans... It is Bensusan's appetite for experimentation and his bold forays into territory more usually the domain of dance maestros, that stir the listener to reach for his back catalogue. His is an acoustic architecture rather than a landscape, replete with French literary references that reek of a musical imagination that refuses to sit still. Long may this guru's itch remain unreachable. Attention deficit (dis)order never sounded so ravishing."
The Irish Times, 4 Stars (Ireland)

"It's hard to believe that Altiplanos is only the tenth album released by legendary French-Algerian fingerstyle guitarist Pierre Bensusan since his Montreux Festival award-winning 1977 debut. But this master craftsman of the guitar wouldn't dream of committing material to disc without first honing it to perfection: each of the fourteen tracks is a gleaming gem of the composer's art." Nine/Ten
The Hot Press (Ireland)

"Yet another guitar playing masterpiece from Pierre... Pierre's fluid style once again reveals him to be one of the most expressive pickers around today. From the depths of the moody Scarabée to the harmonic heights of Tacita, this is a most uplifting and emotional listening experience. Perfect for moments of solitude or a romantic encounter and hopefully it will encourage more players to attempt to master the acoustic guitar."
Guitar Techniques (UK)

"Altiplanos... demonstrates Pierre's ability in crossing musical continents in seconds... and a mighty mastery of the guitar. Pierre's music ... is an education. Having seen Pierre perform many times, I've witnessed his dedication and the focus applied in order to achieve the spiritual state of mind needed to perform. Whilst some of his music is complex both musically and in arrangement, Pierre maintains his musical integrity, combined with pure driven spontaneity. Every performance is unique. I believe Pierre to be one of the best acoustic guitarists on the planet. His passion and ability to express complex musicality and sensitivity through his guitar and voice is unsurpassed. Pierre seems to assuage any sense of struggle with his instrument, applying a strong cursive style and technique. His sound is largely generated from his own unique, and combined techniques. This also originates from his rich cultural roots, broad musical knowledge and influence, and importantly a deep study of the guitar. All of this combined has resulted in the exquisite, unique and passionate acoustic musical experience that is Pierre Bensusan."
Acoustics Magazine (UK)

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