California Guitar Trio Shows Off Range

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

Last Friday night, Nov. 6, a nearly sold-out crowd gathered in the MCA Concert Hall to listen to the California Guitar Trio perform a varied set of pieces that spanned multiple genres. They covered music that ranged from Bach to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the performers proved to be just as eclectic as their pieces.

The California Guitar Trio was formed in 1991 by Paul Richards of Salt Lake City, Utah, Bert Lams of Affligem, Belgium and Hideyo Moriya of Tokyo, Japan after the three met at a series of Guitar Craft workshops put on by Robert Fripp, who was the lead guitarist of King Crimson, a band known for its soaring and inventive progressive rock epics. They became close friends during the workshops and formed the trio four years later. Over the past three decades, the group has recorded 14 studio albums populated by both original compositions and covers, and had their music featured in Olympic broadcasts and wake-up calls for the astronauts on the NASA shuttle Endeavor.

This show was their first at the College, and judging by the audience reception they did not disappoint. The concert began as the trio walked out on stage to their respective positions and slid right into their first song, an original titled “Yamanashi Blues.” Their musicianship was immediately apparent as they blended the distinct tones of their guitars into this mid-tempo number that introduced the crowd to their style. After finishing “Yamanashi Blues,” Richards stepped forward to introduce them and say a little bit about the piece; the band continued to explain their songs throughout the night, showing that the group placed as much importance on the stories behind their songs as their composition.

After another original entitled “Melrose Avenue,” which was written while they were driving down Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles to their first show together, the group changed gears dramatically and delivered a cover of a 1959 song by Santo and Johnny titled “Sleepwalk.” Richards played slide guitar delving into a country sound for the first, but not last, time of the night. After finishing, he then stepped forward to introduce the next song, another original composed by Moriya titled “Cherry Blossoms” that would most effectively be classified as new age. The song is a strikingly beautiful composition, and it tenderly emoted the experience of watching cherry blossoms float down from their branches in the spring. Such clear evocation of images and emotions was apparent in the other original pieces the trio performed, which conveyed the feeling of anticipation Lams felt in walking into the first Guitar Craft workshop, and Moriya memories of walking through sunbeams in the forest near his home.

Amongst their more reflective pieces, the group took time to have fun on stage and play a number of more high energy pieces deftly interspersed throughout the program. A standout was their interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo á la Turk,” a jazz piece blended with Turkish music that Brubeck heard on a trip through the country. It is hard to imagine a Brubeck song without his characteristic pianoriffs, but the talent of the trio more than compensated. Another highlight came with “Ghost Riders on the Storm,” a medley of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” by Stan Jones and the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” The two songs accented each other wonderfully, and showcased the group’s compositional ability to bring out the best in the work of other artists. Moving to another period entirely, Bach was presented by the trio in an orthodox and impressive playing method they learned from Fripp called circulation. They played a Bach prelude (not specified as such by Richards while presenting it) with each guitarist playing a single note one after another, effectively cutting the song into thirds. Apart from the technical skill displayed by this difficult method, the piece was played beautifully. Lams is a Royal College of Music graduate in classical guitar, and as noted by the group he leads the group on their classical outings.

After delving once again into jazz on“Spiritual” by Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden, and country on a rousing cover of a Buck Owens instrumental called “Buckaroo,” they returned to Bach for the end of their set to perform a spectacular rendition of “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” After the first of three standing ovations, the group returned to the stage to fulfill their promise and played “Bohemian Rhapsody,” encouraging the audience to join in and sing along. The night’s music was concluded on a high note, choosing Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” as their final song, showcasing Moriya’s surf rock background and sending the show out with one final burst of energy.

As they left the stage after their rousing encore, the California Guitar Trio left no doubt as to their remarkable musicianship. Their survey of so many genres and styles made the show a hit among the crowd, and I did not see a single person, whether a student or community member, leave the show without a smile.