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WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

For Pierre Bensusan, one label fits: original

He expertly blends the contradictions of New Age and world music genres during a concert at the Skirball Center.

April 01, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Guitarist Pierre Bensusan arrived on the music scene three decades ago, when he was still in his early 20s. At the time, world music and New Age were newly arriving genres, and the players and the sounds often blended into a common arena, at least as far as many music fans could tell.

As a French-Algerian player whose music often possessed the melodic sense of the New Age style, Bensusan weathered the contradictions of both camps. New Age fans were often bothered by his forays into lightning fast, dissonance-tinged playing, while some world music listeners questioned the values of a player who refused to be confined within the stockade of traditional playing styles.

Thirty years later, after having spent most of his career determinedly following his own muse, Bensusan remains a beyond-definition player. His solo concert at the Skirball Cultural Center on Thursday was the work of a music world original.

That's not to say that he arrived as fully formed as Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus. Noble contemporaries and antecedents such as Leo Kottke, John Fahey and Michael Hedges came to mind while hearing and watching Bensusan's articulate, virtuosic command of his instrument. Using the once unorthodox, now much more commonly used DADGAD guitar tuning, he took advantage of the open sound (and lowered bottom string) to produce an extraordinary range of lush harmonic textures.

The first half of the show was largely devoted to pleasant, amiable melody making, enhanced by Bensusan's remarkable, Bobby McFerrin-like scat singing and a tender song based on Victor Hugo's poem "Demain des l'aube." The second half showcased more of the fiery virtuosity of Bensusan's earlier years, especially an untitled number shifting in and out of a 7/4 time signature, which used every imaginable acoustic guitar technique, including finger tapping, moving harmonics, complex strumming rhythms and harp-like chording. A convincing display by a master performer.

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