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[whitespace] California Guitar Trio Instrumental Forces: California Guitar Trio harnesses the power of three into skillful and wildly diverse music.

String Art

California Guitar Trio proves three is the magic number with its unique sound

By Marianne Messina

CALIFORNIA GUITAR TRIO is an unassuming name that‚ while it may represent wishful thinking for trio members living in Tokyo, Utah, and Wiltshire, England‚ gives not the remotest hint of what this group can do with guitars. All acoustic, amplified and enhanced, the CGT sound comes off like charge of the harpsichords one minute and trance music from Medicine Mountain the next.

The guitars are tuned in fifths, not fourths, which offers a broad sound palette, richer lows, brighter highs. And CGT thinks nothing of playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" back-to-back.

With Yes-like progressive rock in their veins, CGT essentially grew out of the left rib of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. "I was really terrified about the prospect of studying with Robert Fripp," recalls Paul Richards, the trio's managing guitarist. "But I felt it was something that I really needed to do." Richards had grown up loving Rush, King Crimson and Queen. "When I arrived at my first [Fripp] Guitar Craft course in 1986, I felt as though this was the right place for me to be." In later classes, at Fripp's home in England, Richards met CGT's other two guitarists, Belgian Bert Lams, and Hideyo Moriya from Japan.

Put all three guitarists thorough jazz/classical training with their sometimes egregious early influences (Moriya was into the Ventures' surf music) and you get the iconoclastic series of surprises that make up CGT's program. Sometimes it's how they do a piece that's surprising. "Our version of [the Ellington standard] "Caravan" is based on a Ventures version," Richards reports. "And also I have a neat version by Les Paul." (Their "Caravan" sounds like the theme song for "The Casablanca Hillbillies.") Other times it's what they perform that's so amazing. They do a powerful rendition of Mussorgski's usually fanfare-ish, epic-sounding "Pictures at an Exhibition."

On their new CD, Rocks the West, half the tracks feature another courtier from the Crimson halls, bassist and famed Chapman Stick player Tony Levin. In the last year or so Levin has become an almost-fourth member of the CGT. "They invited me to play one show just to see how it would be," Levin explains. "It turned out that we meshed really well." Busy with varied tour and session work--Laurie Anderson to Paul Simon to Seal--in addition to his two long-term musical marriages with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, plus managing Papa Bear Records, Levin doesn't always get to tour with the trio.

But his presence definitely beefs up the "atmospheric" quotient. In Bert Lams' misty "Punta Patri," for example, Levin sets his fretless slides adrift over the tingling high-string patterns. "The trio can play things like Beethoven's symphonies and it doesn't sound like anything's missing," Levin reflects on his place in the music. "When they asked me to first play with them, I thought, 'Well, what it really could use is sustain.' And the thing that has the most sustain that I play is the fretless bass."

On their current tour, CGT/Levin (along with drummer and Crimson vet Pat Mastelotto ), debut a "secret" classic piece, arranged by Hideyo and sent from Japan via email in a Finale music file. Unwittingly, Tony Levin leaked half the secret: expect something by Yes. With Mastelotto on board, this piece and the driving Crimson staple, "Elephant Talk," should kick some serious ambience.

California Guitar Trio plays with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Usual, 400 S. First St, San Jose. Doors open 8:00pm. Tickets are $15, available at 510.601.TWEB, www.ticketweb.com or 408.525.0330.

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From the January 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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