California Guitar Trio graces Rockford again

California Guitar Trio graces Rockford again

By Molly Fleming, Staff Writer

Last year, Charlotte’s Web pulled in the California Guitar Trio for an unforgettable performance at Memorial Hall, and now they’re back. This eclectic group is a little piece of the outside music world that has been turning ears and catching national attention for the last 11 years. Now, thanks to Karen and Bill Howard of Charlotte’s Web, they have returned to Rockford to promote their Christmas album, A Christmas Album, and their new work CG3+2 featuring Tony Levin on bass and King Crimson drummer, Pat Mastelotto.

A Brief Bio

California Guitar Trio is Paul Richards of Salt Lake City, Utah; Bert Lams of Brussels, Belgium; and Hideyo Moriya of Tokyo, Japan. The three guitarists first met in England at Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft Courses back in 1987. After completing many of these intensive courses, they toured worldwide with Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists. In 1991, Richards, Lams and Moriya met in Los Angeles and formed the CGT.

“We started in L.A. and met for long periods of time,” Lams told The Rock River Times, “pretty much living in the same house.” They have been playing ever since, and have released several albums since then. They have opened for John McLaughlin on tour, played with Bill Janssen on their album Pathways and toured with the likes of Tony Levin, Jarrod Kaplan and Pat Mastelotto. In 1995 and ’96, they performed 130 shows opening for King Crimson which, as Lams mentioned, opened up a lot of publicity for the trio. The group has also performed worldwide, touring through Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Japan and Austria, as well as other countries .

The CGT fuses elements of jazz, classical, surf-rock and country creating a thoroughly enjoyable and energetic sound that has been described as “power guitar.” They arranged a tasteful rendition of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” and an interesting version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which is covered frequently, but never as respectfully and un-obviously as by the trio. Lams’ major study background is in classical music, whereas Moriya is a surf rock fan who implements music from his own culture into his sound, and Richards brings in various rock and jazz aspects. Stan Fonicelli, a composer in Salt Lake City, has had a hand in the classical arrangements for the group, as well as writing compositions for them. Moriya added a great number of his own compositions to the latest album, which he worked on while at home in Japan, but as Lams points out: “It’s very well divided … we each bring in equal parts.”

The CGT sound

Attending a CGT concert is a sensually stimulating experience. Not only does their music open the listener’s eyes to a new concept in sound, but so involving are these three that the audience sometimes almost feels as if they’re playing the music with the group, too. They intersperse their sets with warm humor and transcend any of the concert snobbery that pervades the serious progressional scene in contemporary jazz/fusion groups. An obvious influence is Dick Dale in his more Lithuanian stage, but that is only one minute aspect to this many-sided group. Small amounts of Pat Metheny mingle with the harder side of an unknown rock group, and occasionally, the audience will hear a touch of Medeski Martin & Wood from The Dropper, but not with as many dark and acid-ridden aspects. The music is experimental, but still maintains a down-to-earth feel with natural elements.

Comments from the group

When asked about the group’s views on musical purism in light of the fusion label planted on their name, Lams was refreshingly un-offended.

“We don’t think too much about that (purism) .We just play what we love. Music is a universal language that connects every one from every ethnicity, so we really don’t have a concept of that.”

When asked if playing in a trio that consisted of three of the same instruments is ever limiting, Lams said enthusiastically: “No, not at all. We’re very open and are always finding new ways of exploring.” Lams also commented that in light of their work with other musicians, specifically Levin and Mastelotto, the trio is always adding new aspects of sound to promote new growth.

The obvious question of “Why Rockford?” came up in the conversation, to which Richards replied, “Rockford is one of our favorite cities to play in!” When asked if he was serious, Richards assured The Rock River Times that he was.

Touring through the holidays

The group kicked off its tour last week in New York, and now is making its way through the country down to Rockford. Oddly enough, they don’t have any gigs set for Chicago, so this weekend Rock Town has one over on the Windy City. The CGT will still be on tour through December, missing Thanksgiving with their families. So it would be a good idea to make these boys feel at home around the holiday season when they’re working so hard.

A Christmas Album is in stores now and available at Borders stores in the area. The album contains a tasteful array of classic Christmas tunes, the real ones. “Frosty the Snowman” is nowhere to be found, although “Jingle Bells” is disappointingly featured on track seven, but that tune is more traditional than most. One other let-down is the rendition of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, but the tune is recorded and arranged as well as it could ever be and helps the listener forget what a bad period that was for Lennon. The rest of the album is composed of traditional Christmas music, including “(Greensleeves) What Child is This?”, and Handel’s “Unto Us a Child is Born.”

Rarely does the Rockford audience get the chance to see such a well-seasoned group with so many fresh and sophisticated concepts, perform in such an intimate setting. Memorial Hall has held this trio in the past, and hopefully, will host them again within the next year, as Lams alluded to in the interview.

The CGT is playing Friday night, November 15 at 8 p.m. at Memorial Hall. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at The Tin Whistle, Rockford Area Arts Council, 713 E. State St., and The Postal Shoppe in the Edgebrook Center. To find out more about The California Guitar Trio, go to They’ve got diaries, tour dates and reviews, and bio information is posted on the site.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!