California Guitar Trio

You'd be tempted to think that three amazing guitarists all going at once would be prone to step all over each other's toes, making a muddy sonic mess of battling egos. But if those three guitarists are really, really good and are secure enough in their musicianship and masculinity they know how to work with each other instead of battling for aural territory. Such is the case with Bert Lams, Paul Richards, and Hideyo Moriya, who collectively are known as California Guitar Trio.

For their latest album, CGT+2, these three former students of guitar visionary Robert Fripp have teamed up with the bass-man's bassist Tony Levin and the always masterful Pat Mastelotto on "traps and buttons" to create fourteen memorable instrumentals that range from Japanese traditionals to classic rock to full-out bizarre. Unlike their past albums, which at times had the tendency to become a bland flurry of riffing fury, the addition of these seasoned veterans seems to have added some soul and passion to their compositions.

The first track that caught my attention was their amazing version of the classic Yes song "Heart of the Sunrise" which CGT begins with the intro to "Long Distance Runaround", a well-known riff that is then strategically placed throughout the song so as to keep the listener off balance, resulting in a fresh take on a familiar favorite. "Zundoko-Busho" is based on a traditional Japanese melody but with excepts from King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man", all set against a pulsing Peter Gunn riff. Spanish guitar and flamenco flourishes set against a 14/4 time signature open the album in "Melrose Avenue" in a track so well paced and arranged that the listener is caught up in the dramatic development of the melody instead of being mired in the technical prowess of the musicians. "Train to Lamy" opens with scorching, dirty blues the morphs effortlessly into a jaw-dropping country hoe down with a barrage of fancy picking sure to satisfy any banjo aficionado.

While most of the music is full of warmth and emotion, CGT could not resist adding a few experimental tracks for those who prefer to think about, rather than feel, their music. "What I Am" and "The Chase", the last two tracks on the CD, fall into this category, each a patchwork of sound clips, hyper guitar noodlings, other-worldly sounds, and oddly juxtaposed rhythms. Equal time is given in "Eve", a simple but romantic ballad of acoustic guitars that is all melody and emotion.

Instead of intimidating the listener with impossibly complex technical music CGT was able to weave these behind great melodies and well-paced instrumentals. While the breadth of music on this album will impress even non-guitarists, those who will drool the most are fans of progressive guitar music, fans whose lives are but empty shells until they hear these astounding compositions.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, December 2002.