Azwan (MVD Audio)
Now in his sixties, French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan has at times been unfairly plopped in the new-age category by people who didn’t know what to make of him otherwise. Truth is, he’s one of those hugely talented beyond-category artists who doesn’t care much about genres or labels.
It sounds as if he’s had classical training at some point by the precision and touch he brings to the acoustic guitar, but Bensusan also hints at varied folk and Gypsy traditions, expressing himself with a jazzy elegance that can be expansive or intimate, sometimes in the same tune. This largely-solo set features a dozen original compositions, and some of them feel more improvised than others.
Here and there, he adds his own spare, wordless scats to match the strings. Two bona fide songs feature his French vocals, Corps Vaudou (or voodoo body) with lyrics by his wife, and the closing Manitowoc with more of a folk-ballad feel. Several guest appearances bring friends on upright bass, violin, and, most intriguing, a second guitar on the intricate Balkangeles.
Either way, Azwan (or as one) offers beautiful, contemplative listening.