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Montréal Guitare Trio starts Chamberfringe on a strong note (review)

Marc Morin of MG3 put down his guitar occasionally for accordion. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Montréal Guitare Trio (MG3)
Ottawa Chamberfest
St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities
Thursday, July 25, 2013 - 10 p.m.

View photos of this concert

A single guitar began, Flamenco-style. After a few bars, two more guitars joined in – and the Montréal Guitare Trio was off and running, for a high-energy, crowd-pleasing concert.

The trio has been together for 15 years, playing a mixture of classical, jazz, pop, movie soundtracks, and folk material. But the operative word is “mixture”. As they told the audience, they love to create unexpected combinations: for example, crossing the overture to Rossini's The Barber of Seville (“which we learned from Bugs Bunny”) with klezmer music.

All three began by playing acoustic guitars, which stayed their primary instruments. but each would often switch out to another instrument. Marc Morin also played electric bass and small accordion; Sébastien Dufour a charango (a Bolivian stringed instrument which can be made from an armadillo shell, although his was all-wood); and Glenn Lévesque a mandolin and an electric guitar.

Their first piece crossed Italian and Flamenco styles with a theme from the Quebec iconic singer Félix Leclerc. Later on, they mixed gypsy music and the traditional music of Brittany. “Garam Masala”, the title track of one of their albums, combined Indian and Arabic music. On that number, their guitars created some surprisingly authentic sitar-like sounds and drones, while Dufour hand-drummed on his guitar in intricate and ever-changing patterns.

Those were all dramatic, fast pieces, with a propulsive beat. But there were also slower pieces: a heartfelt version of George Harrison's “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, played with quiet intensity by all three with Lévesque adding the vocals; and an original with nonsense-word lyrics, slow and stately like a complicated dance with the charango adding higher grace notes.

I particularly enjoyed “Le Peuple des glaces”, a tribute the group wrote in honour of the welcoming people they have met while touring in northern locations like Labrador, Nunavut, the Yukon, Estonia, the Scandinavian countries, and Russia. It was a tapestry of notes, a round dance among electric bass and two guitars, which became very fast and percussive and ended with the three in unison.

Was it jazz? The song that most nearly qualified was “Manhã de Carnaval” from the 1959 film Black Orpheus, which has become a jazz standard. Their version, started quietly, with fluttering notes on acoustic guitar, which morphed to almost Flamenco-like flourishes. Lévesque sang the lyrics soulfully, while electric guitar and bass added a full and multi-layered feel.

Their encore also included a piece which has been frequently adapted by jazz pianists: the theme from the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, by Italian composer Ennio Morricone. The trio gave it a strong and dramatic reading – but not a typical one, because they played it on acoustic guitar, charango, and accordion, and crossed it with a traditional Quebec reel.

In any case, the adventurous and untraditional spirit with which the group approached their sources, and their willingness to experiment, certainly was jazz-like in approach – especially since their combinations generally seemed to work.

The trio's strength is particularly in their fluid coordination: their years of experience playing together were obvious, as was their concentration and intensity. Many times you could see they were totally absorbed in the moment creating the music. But they also easily and happily communicated the joy of that music with the audience, overcoming any language barriers.

And the audience certainly was in tune with it, with frequent strong applause, a standing ovation at the end, and an encore.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All images ©Brett Delmage, 2013
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