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Montreal Guitar Trio use guitars as weapons of choice
To a guitarist, the movie scores of Ennio Morricone are pure manna.
Think of the lulling beauty to the theme of Cinema Paradiso, or the whistle along guitar folk to A Fistful of Dollars. Then there’s the score to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, so marvelously covered by a ukulele orchestra out of Great Britain.
For the members of the Montréal Guitar Trio (MG3), not only have they bonded over those Sergio Leone shoot-‘em-up-and-leave-‘em-bleeding spaghetti westerns, often starring Clint Eastwood, they love to perform the famous music from them — and not in your typical manner.
The group, which is about to come to Vernon for the third performance of the North Okanagan Community Concert season, Jan. 18, not only plays a mash up of The Good, The Bad and Ugly with the Mattawa reel, it brings a load of different genres —from classical to Latin gypsy to Québec traditional— to all the songs it performs.
“Spaghetti western themes are a big influence in our music. It’s inspiring music almost like a character. Everyone likes the music and even eight, nine and 10 years olds know the reference. It’s a living piece of art, the music itself,” said MG3 member Sébastien Dufour, from his home in Montréal.
Meeting 15 years ago while studying classical guitar at the Université de Montréal, Dufour, Glenn Lévesque and Marc Morin have evolved from being strictly classical musicians to combining their styles, interests and talents.
“We started as classical musicians but because of our wide interests in music, our style and growth changed. Now we play what could be best described as world music,” said Dufour.
Morin is not only a master on the guitar, he plays accordion and bass. Lévesque is a Beatles fan and also a vocalist. (His version of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps can be heard on MG3’s latest album.) Dufour’s influences include the music of Bali and well as Spanish Flamenco. He plays dobro along with other string instruments and was also a founding member of Québec’s Le Vent du Nord.
“We’re not restrained to just the guitar, but our original show started with what you can do with three guitars,” said Dufour. “Together we take our interests and traditional backgrounds and arrange the music. It’s always a surprise how far it’s going to go. One moment the music may be in the rock style, then it can go from folk to reggae to samba from Brazil. It’s the buzz and energy that makes it a brand, new style.”
The trio is also about varying its sound by incorporating techniques into its performances such as different tunings so that the instrument sounds like an Arabian oud or Indian sitar or tapping the guitar to sound like an Indian tabla or a cajón used in Flamenco and Brazilian music.
Other “tricks” include using a piece of metal on the strings.
“It sounds close to a gong,” said Dufour.
That melding of styles and techniques has won the trio numerous fans from around the world as well as the 2011 Opus Prize for concert of the year in the jazz/world music category. Those varied sounds have also translated to the trio’s four recordings including their latest Cambria.
A new album, expected to be released in the fall of this year, features all original arrangements.
“From the beginning to now it’s all been about experimental. Before we played half of other people’s arrangements and half our own,” said Dufour. “It’s already original music in that the mix and style comes naturally when we do our crossover thing. We don’t try to force it in. If the influence comes in, we let it. We try not to restrain ourselves although we are all classically trained.”
And for purists who prefer Andrés Segovia over Paco de Lucia, MG3 still plays some classical repertoire, but of course, they put their own spin on it. (Mozart’s The Barber of Seville is just one example.)
“I am glad we learned the discipline and technique of classical. It was not an easy step for us... Playing classical theory to all those other styles is a hard switch because it’s not the same audience, but we do classical festivals, along with jazz and folk. We do it for the love of music,” said Dufour.
And they always pay ode to their hometown. Montréal is in their name after all. (And for those who Google MG3, the band is definitely not named after the German machine gun.)
“It comes from the classical to put the city of where you come from in your name, but it puts a lot of pressure on us, especially when we play Montréal. You have to earn the right to have the name,” said Dufour. “The main reason is for the identity. People know exactly who we are as 90 per cent of our touring is outside of Québec. Even when we go to remote places, like New Zealand or Australia, we will get a few people from Québec showing up because of the name.”
The group has also been known to team up with three other guitarists from the California Guitar Trio, whom they met a few years back. In fact, MG3 will be touring with the American trio after their four-date visit to B.C., with shows in California, Texas and Florida.
“We have performed with them as a sextet before. They play in a progressive rock style. The only thing we have in common is that we all play guitar as our styles are so different, but it makes for a very fun show,” said Dufour.
MG3 takes the stage at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Single concert tickets are available from the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca. Cost is $35 for adults, $17.50 for those under 18, or $5 for students on the eyeGo program. Pro-rated season tickets or tickets for out of town guests are also available.
— The North Okanagan Community Concert Association is also hosting a special fundraiser Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre. An Evening with Bramwell Tovey features the renowned pianist, composer and conductor of the Vancouver Symphony. The concert is not part of the regular NOCCA season and requires a special ticket and new seat selection. Tickets are $40 for adults ($30 for NOCCA season ticket holders), $20 for those under 18 and $5 for students on eyeGo now available at the Ticket Seller box office.