Here are twenty one musicians that have given me a sense of their mastery.


 

Pierre Bensusan

 


I have been following Pierre's music since I first heard him in Paris in 1975, on his album 'Pres du Paris'. Born in Algeria, Pierre grew up in Paris, immersed in the jazz, world, blues and celtic influences of the time.

I finally had the chance to meet him this year, in Seattle, and found his character as full and graceful as his music. I had always felt a shared approach with him, and although he expresses his relationship with music in completely secular terms, it is indeed coming from the same depths. " I only play my truth," he said. "If it's not 'Pierre', I just don't play it."

As he reached the stage in Seattle, someone called "Welcome back, Maestro!"

With a wry smile and raised eyebrows, he commented "Maestro? But that is when you are 80 years old. I am still a very young man, no?"


Kinobe

kinobi


After meeting and playing with the young Kora master Kinobe in Uganda last year it was clear our connection was deep.(the Kora is a 21 string African harp). He declared that I was where he was heading, and I sensed such a familiarity with his appreciation of what music can mean to a person. As we parted, I could only find one suggestion for him, and that was that he not seek to improve further technically, as it would only lead to frustration - at 22 years old, he was already a master of that. "Rather, focus on the spaces between the notes." We both laughed at this, and knew exactly how true it was.

Kinobe and I have created a performing world music duo: Nomad

 

Lui Fang


Lui Fang followed a path of traditional classical training from an early age, with two Chinese instruments, the Pipa and the guzheng. The cultural heritage she grew up with means that she had access to compositions from as far back as the 7th century.

Liu has played on major stages around the world, bringing the passion and exacting discipline of her training to ears that have never heard such sounds.

Have a listen to the pieces recorded on video on her site - incredible! Watch particularly how she finishes the piece in terms of what I mentioned about how with mastery the mixed feelings of joy and fear associated with approval and disapproval become replaced by the full, all-encompassing waves of gratitude that power the music....


 

Atahualpa Yupanqui

 


Some of you will know why I regard Atahuapla with such personal affection. More can be found here. Atahualpa perfecly demonstrates how mastery is not bound to technical ability - the complexity of his music is only in its originality - and one even gets the sense that he disdains flair as a lesser expression. And it is not that he only plays background for the great voice - his solo guitar work stands any listening for the conveyance of his true subject of complexity - the human condition.

Most of his records are still available through Amazon, and you can see an example of his composure and composition here.



John Williams


In my early twenties I first heard John Williams, playing with Julian Bream, another classical master. They recorded two albums together, which have become true classics in their genre.Their lightness and grace - especially in the Spanish dances - took me into the most exquisite spaces, and drew me closer to the idea of chasing beauty through the guitar.

Julian has passed on - I was lucky enough to see him in Vancouver in the seventies - and John still has a very active playing career. John's site is comprehensive and the two recordings he made with Bream can be found here (there are no sample tracks, but there are very inexpensive used copies available.) You will not be sorry to have these two masters fill your space with sound. :-)

Lenny Breau


I met Lenny Breau in 1973, in Vancouver. It was the morning after an amazing night of music at The Nucleus - a pure jazz tripped out start-at-1am genius lair - where he made notes I can still hear.

His gentle friendliness in that early morning, in spite of the addiction that wore on him, was so real. He was not making it anyone else's problem.

There is terribly little good footage of Lenny playing, but he is alive in the memory of anyone who ever heard him. Have a look here. and here.


Duke Ellington


I saw two Duke Ellington concerts in 1970 and 1971, one in Vancouver and one in Dublin. I had no idea at the time how singular they were. I had grown up with my father playing his records, along with other jazz greats.

It was not unitil I heard Guillermo Arevalo chanting in a medicine ceremony that I realized how unusual Duke Ellinton was. For hours listening to Guillermo I could not escape knowing that I had heard this sound before, it was so epic, like ancient galleons in a huge storm.

Finally my mind traced the familiarity, and it was to those two concerts, 35 years earlier. I knew I had not heard that particular power coming from anywhere since I heard Duke's orchestra, and here it was coming from a diminutive native at the side of a yurt. Mind blowing!


 

Mamady Keita





I met Mamady, one of the world's most respected djembe players, while he was teaching a workshop where I live in Victoria BC. I watched and listened to the class of over 50 go through an amazingly complex series of poly-rhythms, guided only occasionaly by the smiling djembefola. Such ease!

You can see his comfortable approach to rather insanely complex polyrhythm in this footage from a recent workshop in France, and the full power of his performance can be seen in footage from Laurent Chevallier's documentary on him here.



Oliver Schroer


Oliver faced a terminal leukemia. Shortly before passing he held his final performance "Oliver's Last Concert on his Tour of this Planet". It was in Toronto on June 5, 2008, sold out. Nobody will forget being at that show, I guarantee you. he made his life and death a gift to those around him.

Oliver's music teases out the insanely beautiful glimmers and resonances that hide in a violin, responding only to the truly ardent seeker. His most recent recording "Hymns and Hers" and past CDs can be found here.

Toumani Diabete


It was through Kinobe that I first heard of Toumani Diabete - at the age of 9 Kinobe saw him play, and seven years later went to visit him in Mali, to begin learning the Kora. Toumani has gained his reputation by travelling and playing for rapt audiences for many years, but it is a telling sign that, when he is in home in Mali, he goes down to the market every week and plays for hours to all who pass by.

He has a landmark CD that I recommend, recorded in one take per song, with a kora player he had never played with before. It is here.

Guillermo Arevalo


In 2005, the first time I heard Guillermo chant in a medicine ceremony I knew I had heard it somewhere before. It was epic, like a Roman slave ship in a hurricane at sea. Finally, after several hours, I remembered: I had seen Duke Ellington with his orchestra live 35 years earlier, and I had not heard that power coming from anywhere else since, until I heard Guillermo!

The recording below is not a chant from the ceremonies, as these Icaros are only sung under very specific conditions and for specific purposes. It does give you, however, a sense of the world he lives in.

Vangelis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vangelis

 

The movie 'Chariots of Fire' put Vangelis in front of the North American audience, but he has a huge following in Europe and is an eminence gris through and through. Great melodic grooves and soaring riffs, sophisticated themes and explosive builds.

My favourite work is 'The City' which captures this essence of modern European life, from the grit to the romance. You can get it here.

There must be a story to his relationship with the web, as there is no official site, but vangelis.com has a placemat that says: "This Web Site will always be under construction: Keep checking frequently" The site is registered in America, but that is so zen, I have to believe it is him!

International Guitar Night


(Masters in the making) The International Guitar Night is a project built by US guitart-poet Brian Gore. For a decade he has put together tours with three other acoustic guitar players and created an evening of fantastic collaboration.

These tours are growing, and I had the chance to sit in on the recording of the live CD for this year's Canadian tour - They will be performing in Nanaimo on Nov 6th and here in Victoria on Nov 8th.

If you like acoustic guitar taken deep into focus, and from several different styles, consider taking in a show or getting their compilation CD.

Goro Yamaguchi


I was nineteen when I first heard ' A Clear Bell in an Empty Sky', and it was the first time that music and sprituality became connected in my world. Goro Yamaguchi was recorded during his stay as Resident Artist at Wesleyan University in the US, and the recording joined Hendrix and Zappa in the psychedelic culture of the times.

This remains for me one of the purest musical expressions of our time. You can hear a piece here.
(Ho Sho Su - 11 min.)

Play it in your house while doing other things, it will most likely change many subtle things about your perception.

Rajery


I first heard Rajery through Kinobe, who played a festival with him in Zimbabwe. Rajery was with his new collaboration 3MA, an outstanding acoustic experience, with masters of the Kora, the Oude, and himself on the Valiha, a tubular harp made from a large bamboo stalk and bicycle brake cable strings. This is a traditional instrument from Madagascar. If you have not heard the Malagasy style it is worth it - feels like a cross between Calypso and Polynesia!

Rajery's story is all the more powerful by the fact he lost his right hand as a toddler, and overcame this weakness to become the founder of a school for music and a significant instrument factory. The joy in his sound speaks directly to the wondrous things that can be attained through daily practice.

Mike Oldfield

mike


As for many others, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells was for me a revelation in sound and classical-groove fusion. For the next thirty years I followed his composing and recordings. It was always apparent to me that he carried his mastery with considerable suffering and frustration - the recordings always included pieces that tried to go too high or too hard in performance for what they held in their composition.

Then with the release of 'Tubular Bells 2' something changed, and the music that has flowed from him since has held the kind of steadiness and beauty that conveys a deeper shift.

His last project has been a fully orchestrated work showing that purely classical music can still be composed as beautifully and originally as ever. An incredible journey.

Mozart / Bergman


There are only two movies I ever viewed seven times in the theatre during their first release, both in the 1970s.

One (understandably) was Blazing Saddles. The other was Ingmar Bergman's Magic Flute, his film of the opera played by a Swedich Troupe in 1975. The collaboration of Mozart's genius of sound, treated by Bergman's genius of light, and their twin power of story make this one of the greatest films ever made.

Here are two YouTube snippets: the incredible aria of the Queen of the Night and the joyful salvation of Papageno - just try not to smile as it ends...

Rent this movie!


Harpo Marx


Few people watching would have remembered Harpo as a musical master at the level of anyone they may have seen on a classical stage. He chose to adapt his incredible gift into the humour and schtick that earned his family a living, and it seems likely that he never regretted it.

Harpo was entirely self-taught. after receiving a harp as a gift, he went to a five-and-dime store to look at a picture of a girl playing the harp so he would know how to hold it. He also taught himself to play three pieces on the piano, then adapted their tempo and style for various film bits.

The piece I like best, and cannot find on YouTube is his perfromance of 'Summertime' in 'At the Circus.' Besides the laughs, its worth the movie just for this beauty.

Paco de Lucia


I had the great fortune to see Paco play in Paris in the late seventies. His recent recording 'Luzia' is pure mastery in flamenco, with his own style - no compromise, and a deep joy in the complexities to be found within a tradition.

The Spanish culture can lay claim to the guitar like no other, both for their folk music - ballads in their style - and for their classical achievements, like the incredible Concierto de Aranjuez.

Watching a player like Paco is guaranteed to keep you humble as a guitarist!

 

Georgia Murray


Georgia grew up on the coast of BC, where her parents built from scatch one of the world's finest fishing resorts.

The linked video was shot there during the resort's role in a television series - and it is very fine work, but for me the composition rides above the imagery. The sparse instrumentation works to support a simple, impeccable melody.

Gina Sala


Gina will tell you it is no big deal, but she spent a year as the lead vocalist for the Cirque de Soleil and knows songs in 23 languages.

That is the kind of signal to look for when considering how deeply someone has understood music (or any other art) If they really have plumbed its depth, the resulting insight includes just how superficial social accolades really are - not that they should be dismissed, since they are very important in their context. But in the context of where the art can lead you, they are no big deal.

Gina joined Kinobe and I for an amazing evening of music on Whidbey Island, video below. She shares so many sensitivities with Kinobe, the four pieces we did together were absolute bliss! And we want more!

Tommy Emmanuel

When you hear Tommy Emmanuel play, it is immediately apparent that he plays personally - every phrase has a unique character.

His fluidity and vitality come from so many years of playing, but this capacity to make a personal voice with an art is the result of a deep decision to aim for authenticity.

Enjoy watching Tommy, and remember, if you are a musician - don't get jealous! He has earned every bit.

Ry Cooder

Ry is an icon of the slide guitar - his main track for the movie Paris, Texas tells it all.

Ry also developed a great cultural engagement, both with historical American roots music and famously with Ali Farka Toure for one of the best African/western collaborations ever.

Apparantly after Ry played a show in London, Toure found him backstage and presented him with his hand built one string violin, starting something great.

Masters of Height!

The physical arts are as deep as any, and this young group of seekers find their expression by throwing their bodies into the abyss, and by controling it totally in spite of the abyss.

There is something so hopeful about their art, and timeless!

Enjoy an excerpt from the documentary
'I Believe I can Fly
'

John Stetch

I met John Stetch a few years ago at Music-By-The-Sea in Bamfield. Silhouetted against the sky, leaning forward with one finger to touch the first note, then sweeping perfection.

I don't play jazz, but I grew up with it, and the ease, energy and directness of John's playing is a source of joy.

Here is a piece from his Thelonius Monk CD
If you like it, get his music here.

Kike Pinto

In 2005 I was scheduled to play a short tour with Kike to raise awarenes of the Amazonian medicine work in BC. A month before he arrived a composition arose that I knew was about him, and he turned up with one that had arrived to him in a dream " in the key of D, which I nener play in", he said. - I was only composing in the key of D at the time!

Kike has founded the Cusco Museum of Indigenous Instruments - and personally collected and learned to play over 400 instruments now preserved within it. One dream I have had since we met is to organize a Nomad tour with Kike as part of it.

Shine Edgar

Shine has gained a growing audience since he moved from remote Cortes Island to work in Vancouver. After a life-changing experience with the didjeridu in the outback of his native Australia Shine has followed a pathway of traditional healing with sound.

Luckily for us,this has included performance as a deep musician, with his textures and rhythm transporting participants into an alternate universe.

I have had many beautiful musical encounters with Shine, and look forward to many more!