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Crossover, both genuine and inventive

Dominion-Chalmers United Church
08/06/2015 -  
Traditional: Miserlou
Bert Lams, Paul Richards, Hideyo Moriya: The Marsh – Chacarera
Robert Fripp: Sleepwalk
Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565

California Guitar Trio: Bert Lams, Hideyo Moriya, Paul Richards
Ennio Morricone: The Man with the Harmonica – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart: Tom Sawyer
Sébastien Dufour and Glenn Lévesque: El Paso
Glenn Lévesque: Breizh Tango
Sébastien Dufour: Garam Masala
Thom Yorke: Weird Fishes
Simon Jeffes: Perpetuum Mobile
George Harrison: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Montréal Guitar Trio: Marc Morin, Sébastien Dufour, Glenn Lévesque

At times it felt more like the city’s Bluesfest than Chamberfest, and the dynamism of the closing performance for this year’s Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival indeed rivalled the heft of the season’s opening concert by the newly formed Canadian National Brass Project. The combo of guitar trios from Montreal and California (the latter of whom have in fact appeared at Ottawa’s Bluesfest), both individually then together, was a unique event and an exceptionally impressive demonstration of crossover music at its most genuine and inventive.

The California Trio opened the show with a set of wide ranging works (traditional, their own composition, and a standard by their primary mentor Robert Fripp) culminating in one of Bach’s most familiar works, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor originally composed for organ. Played (and plucked) on acoustic guitars electronically amplified, the performance sounded almost clavichord-meets-organ. One can only guess if this was intentional – Dominion-Chalmers’ high reverb acoustic certainly contributed to such an impression – however it worked well, especially the upper register dialogs, and was a clear hit with the audience.

Textures were more low key in The Marsh, composed by the three players, an impressionistic ballad celebrating Dorset County, UK, where the group once studied. The name ‘California’ may be a bit misleading as one player, Bert Lams, is from Belgium; Hideyo Moriya is from Japan; only Paul Richards, who fronts the group, is American and California based – he has the surfer dude hair to confirm this. The group is about as cosmopolitan as it gets, though overall their playing has a decided new age feel.

Next it was The Montreal Trio’s turn. They’re less international, seeming to favor music with a French, Spanish or otherwise Mediterranean flavor and with occasional hints of the Far East. This was evident by their opening piece, Morricone’s The Man with the Harmonica from his score for the spaghetti western classic, Once Upon a Time in the West. Right away, their playing illustrated phenomenal color, dramatic texture and dynamic range. These qualities were further explored in El Paso by Glenn Lévesque and Sébastien Dufour then in Dufour’s Garam Masala which showed Asian and Indian influences, the key never changing.

After intermission the trios joined forces, blending personnel and personalities. Chacarera, composed by Lams, Richards and Moriya was a return to new age vibes. Then, Lévesque’s Breizh Tango was a series of variations on themes and rhythms. Perpetuum Mobile by Simon Jeffes, the late British guitarist, composer and arranger, functioned as an almost academic study in ascending tonalities. Then, another UK composer, The Beatles’ George Harrison was incarnated, appropriately enough by While My Guitar Gently Weeps, with one of the players doubling as crooner.

The evening ended with more Morricone, this time the main theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in a richly detailed, spectacularly textured virtuoso arrangement that, as a pop/jazz/crossover sextet, was a fitting finale for this year’s Chamberfest and a tribute to the organizers, musicians and audiences who make it all possible. As with the Canadian National Brass Project’s opening performance two weeks earlier, the audience’s stomping, standing ovation was closer to that for a rock concert than a chamber one.

Charles Pope Jr.



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