It was only a matter of time before Dutch lutenist and minimalist composer Jozef Van Wissem visited Ottawa. The constantly touring musician has also been embraced by fans of experimental music and aficionados of Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance, Jack Rose, James Blackshaw and other members of the new wave of acoustic music. Most recently he collaborated with indie film maker and occasional guitarist Jim Jarmusch on 'Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity'.

Unfortunately for an artist who deserves wide attention from devotees of a wide range of music forms (Baroque, classical, experimental, folk and so on) his show at Ottawa’s chic Mercury Lounge was poorly publicized and only a handful of people showed up to disperse among the rows of chairs set up before the lounge’s stage.

The opening act was classical guitarist and heavy metal lover Nathan Larochette, who performs under the name of Musk Ox, usually accompanied by a cellist and violinist. After confessing that he talked his way onto the bill, having only heard of the show a couple of days earlier - and some nerves on account of Van Wissem being one of the half-dozen people on hand to watch - he launched into a short set of his characteristically melodic and reflective instrumentals.

Van Wissem’s touring companion Bobbie Lee was a noisier proposition. After some lulling songs on the baroque recorder, abetted by some minimal looping and electric accompaniment from a tabletop of devices, he switched to a soprillo saxophone and body microphone while he stamped around the stage.

Van Wissem’s performance returned to the more meditative mood set by Larochette as he played a short set on his 13-course Baroque lute. Clad entirely in black (bar some white leather loafers) with a crucifix necklace, Van Wissem looks a bit like a Spinal Tap character, but his music bridges the gap between the 17th and 21st centuries. Although he’s not the first modern composer to draw on the traditions of the lute (witness Benjamin Britten’s use of John Dowland’s ‘Come Heavy Sleep’ in his ‘Nocturnal’ of 1963, among others), he’s certainly raised it to a high level with his alternately solemn and lively work. On the other hand, he’s probably the first lutenist to lean over the monitors to coax feedback from his lute.

It was an entrancing evening, unfortunately witnessed by far too few.

















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