What can be more striking than a trio of virtuoso guitar players busting stylistic boundaries from tune to tune in performance? You guessed it — two trios of like-minded thrill-seekers pursuing parallel musical missions while remaining distinct.
Such a game plan sits at the heart of the perhaps unlikely alliance of the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio that will perform Thursday at Natasha's. The California Guitar Trio, which has been visiting Lexington for more than a decade, brings together acoustic players of three nationalities — Paul Richards (American), Bert Lams (Belgian) and Hideyo Moriya (Japanese) — who studied extensively in England with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Unassuming in its stage demeanor, the trio juggles classical, prog, surf, jazz, original works and more within its repertoire.
The Montreal Guitar Trio, which makes its Lexington debut with the Thursday concert, is as outward in its presentation as the CGT is reserved. All three — Marc Morin, Sebastien Dufour and Glenn Levesque — are French Canadians with strong classical backgrounds that, on recent albums, have reached out to tunes by modern rock vet Radiohead, tango giant Astor Piazzolla and fellow Canadian troupe Rush to intersperse with its own compositions.
A chance meeting at an Oregon conference led to a quick friendship as well as a part-time partnership that celebrated the trios' stylistic similarities as well as often dramatically different approaches to the guitar.
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"The differences, firstly, are in the guitars we use," Richards said by phone from Los Angeles. "The California Guitar Trio plays steel string acoustic guitars while the Montreal Guitar Trio plays nylon string classical guitars, so the fundamental approach is quite different. The sound is very different.
"During the first half of the show, each group plays separately so people get to hear what the Montreal Guitar Trio sounds like on their own and also the California Guitar Trio for those people who haven't heard us before. Then we play the second half of the show together. It's important for people to hear the difference in the sound and the repertoire."
The MGT's Dufour agreed that differences in the guitars the trios play emphasize not only a difference in technique but how those techniques have led the groups to different stylistic terrains.
"Nylon string guitars also bring us to the flamenco music," he said by phone from Montreal. "There are a lot of strumming techniques and rhythmic patterns that you find in Spanish and Latina music that have really driven the MGT. That's something CGT has explored a little bit but not as much.
"The California guys have their repertoire from the progressive rock and the music they studied with Robert Fripp, whose influence is very obvious and present in their music. They have a kind of atmospheric approach to the music. We have more of Latina energy to the music. So when we bring the two things together, it seems to really expand the spectrum of what guitars can do in a normal ensemble. That's what makes it so interesting to play together in this project."
Another curiously complementary aspect to this guitar alliance centers around the on-and-offstage personalities that distinguish the trios.
"The Montreal guys are very wild, passionate French Canadians," Richards said. "You can see that in the way they perform. Burt, Hideyo and I are pretty mellow. There is not much joking around, not much flashiness going on. They are really high energy players."
"It's a balance," Dufour said. "The three of us in MGT are very energetic guys and the guys from California are really Zen. That's really good. I think that's why we're able to stick together. It's kind of a yin and yang. They're really calm people. We're talking all the time. They bring us a good vibe and we bring them a good balance. We like that."