There is no better way to appreciate the virtuosic technical command, vast stylistic breadth and unassuming performance profile of the California Guitar Trio than to witness its impact on a novice audience.
Take, for instance, its show last year at Berea College. In all likelihood, much of the student turnout at the CGT’s convocation concert treated it as a class assignment. But at the height of the performance, the crowd – young and old attendees, alike – was singing along to the trio’s version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody as though the decades old anthem was still a current radio hit.
The CGT won over an entirely different audience when it played a benefit concert in the North Michigan town of Traverse City last month. The setting alone sent up all kinds of artistic red flags.
“It was a benefit concert for the Hospice in Traverse City and was set up like a party in this big outdoor tent at a gold course,” said California Guitar Trio guitarist Paul Richards. “There was an open bar and they had dinner beforehand. So we were concerned that we were going to be background music. But an amazing thing happened. As soon as we started to play, the whole place went quiet. Everybody in the room was listening and totally into it. It was really wonderful – and surprising. At those events, you never know what’s going to happen because they’re there as part of the support for this benefit. We made lots of new fans that night.”
So goes the ongoing musical adventures that Richards (a Utah native), Bert Lams (from Belgium) and Hideyo Moriya (from Japan) have embarked on as the California Guitar Trio. The band formed in Los Angeles 22 years ago, although the three players met in England while studying with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.
What likely wins over unfamiliar audiences initially – whether they hail from a small town college campus or a posh golf party benefit – is the remarkable stylistic range of the trio’s repertoire. Everything from prog to fusion to classical to surf to multi-directional original music has a role in a CGT show. The kicker: all of the music is delivered on three acoustic guitars.
“We’ve never had any huge promotion team from a major record company or big money spent on promotion,” Richards said of the CGT’s means of getting its music across to new audiences. “But we’ve been able to make connections through the more ground level promotion of local media and internet radio. Those things have been vital in helping spread the word.”
The stylistic reach of the CGT’s music is underscored on its last three studio recordings. Echoes (2008) offered arrangements of wildly disparate pop material (from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird). Andromeda (2010) focused exclusively on original music colored by various ethnic and prog-ish accents. Finally, Masterworks (2011) was devoted to the classical works of Bach, Barber, Beethoven and others.
Another recording is in the planning stages. Until it surfaces, the trio has a new arrangement to show off on its current tour – specifically, a guitar-centric reworking of jazz icon Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk.
“This one has gotten lots of great reaction and the arrangement that we’ve made out of it has been super fun to play.
“It’s important that the music stays exciting for us. Audiences are very sensitive to those things. If the performers onstage aren’t into what they’re doing, people can go away feeling that maybe what that they saw wasn’t the greatest show. I think that is super important. Amongst the three of us, we’ve been able to find ways to come up with different ideas and different music.”
California Guitar Trio performs at 8 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $20. Ric Horkinski opens. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com.