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Marc Atkinson Trio: A lot more than just strumming

‘Atkinson has incorporated a variety of influences into his music’
The Marc Atkinson Trio at the Civic Centre in Port Hardy. (Debra Lynn photo)

North Island Concert Society review by Debra Lynn

The North Islander Concert Society hosted a performance of instrumental music by the March Atkinson Trio at the Port Hardy Civic Centre on Feb. 5. The centerpiece of the performance was the acoustic guitar, played by band leader and band composer, Marc Atkinson. Atkinson seems to explore all of the instrument’s possibilities: he is not only a highly skilled musician, but serious a creative thinker.

Atkinson has incorporated a variety of influences into his music, including classical, roots, jazz and melodic, often giving them a surprising new twist.

The trio played Chopin’s waltz in A minor, first playing it closely to the original version, which still sounded very different on the guitar. They then performed a more embellished version, which came out, interestingly, sounding like Flamenco.

The group also did an interpretation of an old largo by Bach which ended up very “un-Bach-like.” It is interesting how a piece originally meant for piano is dramatically transformed by the guitar. For Atkinson, “different” seems to be a calling.

Noteworthy was the variety within the individual compositions. Atkinson changes the tempo, mood, rhythm and such: painting a sound picture with a complex array of brushstrokes. The stage lighting also changed throughout, complimenting the changes in the composition of the music. Atkinson takes an instrument that could easily be too predictable and throws in a bunch of surprises to keep the audience fully engaged.

The concert went on without an intermission, which worked. The concert was a process, the variety and little surprises drawing us into a certain state of mind. An intermission would have broken the spell. The tunes were not so much “stand alone” experiences, but parts of a whole.

Atkinson was wrapped around his guitar like he had a long-term relationship with it, like it was a part of his body and soul. It was evident that he has done the requisite 10,000 hours required of artists to master their craft, and probably does it “just for fun” quite often. He had a relaxed and easy demeanor when talking to the audience—as if we were joining him for a party in his kitchen—but he was totally in control of every note, and then some. He has real artistry with the guitar: he seems to do everything that could possibly be done with it. He’s an experimenter, taking the guitar in every direction as far as he can take it.

Atkinson was supported by band mates, Jody Rutherford, on rhythm guitar, and Scott White on bass. Atkinson let slip that White was having a birthday in a day (which later lead to the audience singing Happy Birthday for him after the standing ovation performance). In honour of White’s birthday, the group played a tune, Boilermaker, to highlight his bass. The mood was set when Atkinson made a series of playfully disparaging comments about White’s instrument. The piece ended up becoming a musical duel between the two musicians that involved a few almost acrobatic contortions, as well as a laugh or two.

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