What a difference a year can make. Since guitarists' guitarist Pierre Bensusan's most recent appearance in the Southland, his visibility has increased dramatically. "The Guitar Book," a fascinatingly idiosyncratic collection of instrument techniques, songs, recipes and personal philosophy, arrived in the fall, closely followed by "Spices," his first new recording in five years, and the initial release in a new contract with CBS Records (and with the masterworks division, at that).
Friday night at McCabe's Guitar Shop, Bensusan--no longer merely the cult favorite of lovers of acoustic guitar--quickly reassured his listeners that the favorable changes in his career have in no way diminished the quality of his music.
Performing solo (with the occasional accompaniment of his own recorded lines reproduced by a Roland Sequencer), Bensusan started a bit slowly with an unnamed piece in 6/8, then hit his stride with the now-familiar (and appropriately titled) "Santa Monica." Deceptively song-like in structure, the work was filled with inner densities--bass counterlines against a top string melody, sudden strums and accents--that gave it a remarkably orchestral quality.
Typically, Bensusan varied his program with occasional choices from the wide array of world music that seasons his repertoire. "Imaginary Boat" rocked with samba accents and an oddly dissonant vocal line (aided by the sequencer). A Gaelic jig-like piece included some remarkably authentic-sounding melodic ornamentation, and "Suite Flamande Aux Pommes" lacked only the dessert of the same name that Bensusan recommends as an accompaniment for the music.
In his book, the guitarist offers a quote from Couperin that sagely notes that "I greatly prefer that which touches me to that which surprises me." It was a testimony to Bensusan's great skill Friday night that his music usually managed to do both--a rich emotional tapestry juxtaposed against an unfolding dance of musical delights.