Three Axes to Grind
Musical mastery does not necessarily equal engaging entertainment, and rare is the case when serious musicians can tear themselves from technique long enough to consider the audience. But California Guitar Trio is a rare case: The combination of musicians of their caliber is something akin to a harmonic convergence, bringing balance between proficiency and performance.
The trio, the members of which are not from California, is made up of Belgian Bert Lams, American Paul Richards and Japanese surf-rock aficionado Hideyo Moriya. All three opted for acoustic guitars as their instrument of choice and met in England during an advanced guitar craft course offered by Robert Fripp. In 1990, they decided to work together, joining forces in Los Angeles. In typical Los Angeles-scene style, they had to pay the club just to let them play their first show. A break came later when they were recruited to be the opening act on King Crimson's tour. In turn, they have acquired the current King Crimson rhythm section, fleshing out the band with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto.
Levin has spent time playing with Peter Gabriel and proven himself to be an innovative, creative, melodic and dramatic bassist. And Mastelotto spent time in the '70s as a sought-after session musician and, in the '80s, joined the band Mr. Mister for its string of hits. Later he began playing with King Crimson as well as a wide variety of other projects.
As one might expect, California Guitar Trio creates music that's appropriately complex. They have to do something to keep from boring themselves, each other and their audience (composed, it could be argued, mainly of other musicians). Generally it remains accessible. The band injects enough passion, emotion and humor into its performance that lay people (its nonmusician fans) can have something to grasp onto even when the music is going over their heads.
California Guitar Trio is progressive: The trio goes so far as to cover songs by King Crimson and Yes while throwing in surf numbers and classical pieces. But, perhaps because the music is entirely instrumental, it lacks the typical trappings and clichés of the "progressive" genre that has the unfortunate habit of taking itself way too seriously. Instead the band members direct their collective energies to make use of dynamics and employing ambient effects wisely. At any given moment there is much going on, giving the listener a lot to digest. But the skill of the musicians keeps the intermingling of rhythmic impossibilities and advanced chord chemistry from descending into a chaotic mess. Unless it's done intentionally, of course. Together they create a pleasing, interesting blend of classical, rock, blues, jazz and bluegrass, swearing allegiance to none for more than a phrase or two. The result is something that truly deserves the label "eclectic" and creates something more than the sum of its parts.
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