Peruse the discography of the California Guitar Trio and you will find recordings reflecting styles and intents that reflect the group’s myriad musical inspirations.
For 2011’s “Masterworks,” the repertoire was steered exclusively to classical music, with works by Bach and Beethoven sitting beside contemporary pieces by Estonian composer Arvo Part. On 2010’s “Andromeda,” the focus shifted to original compositions that used and built on the studies with acclaimed prog guitarist Robert Fripp that introduced the three players — Utah-bred Paul Richards, Belgian-born Bert Lams and Japanese native Hideyo Moriya — to one another in 1987 (the California Guitar Trio formally began in 1991). Go back to 2008’s “Echoes” and you will hear a wildly disparate array of cover tunes by Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Free Bird,” no less) and Mike Oldfield.
But as the group name suggests, the instrumentation bringing such an expansive array of music to life is built around three acoustic guitars. Sometimes, pedal effects and assorted electronic gadgetry have helped enhance the band’s sound. Not so on “Komorebi,” the trio’s newest recording.
We never forget we’re together in service of the music and that we have this privilege of performing. People are still coming to see us play, too.
Paul Richards, California Guitar Trio
“Every album has a different story about how it came together,” Richards said. “Oftentimes, we’re not even sure how it’s going to turn out until we get close to finishing it. But on this one, we set a few parameters to help guide things. One of them was not using effects to in any way modify the guitars, so we could get the most natural, beautiful acoustic tone that we could. The challenge was to find the repertoire that works well with that.”
That meant typically far-reaching vintage fare that includes acoustic guitar reworkings of tunes by The Beatles (“Dig a Pony”), Buck Owens (“Buckaroo”), The Beach Boys (“Good Vibrations”), The Shadows (“Wonderful Land”) and Dave Brubeck (“Blue Rondo a la Turk,” presented on “Komorebi” as simply “Blue Rondo”).
The Brubeck classic perhaps best examines the trio’s inherent playfulness in its dizzying crossfire of time signatures, swing refrains and balance of compositional structure and improvisational immediacy.
“We have tons of people making suggestions to us about what tunes we should play, so we have to do some filtering along the way as well as a little investigating on our own. Once we took another look at this tune, we realized it has so many elements that work well for us. It has the Rondo part, the classical element, which is something all three of us are familiar with. Then it has all these odd signatures and the switching back and forth, which is something we learned to be able to do well with Robert Fripp. We started playing it a couple of years ago. It took that long, I think, for us to get to the point where we could feel comfortable recording it.”
The original works comprising the other half of “Komorebi” are set in motion by Moriya’s album-opening title tune, an elemental but emotive acoustic guitar meditation.
“I’ve known Hideyo for 30 years now, and he’s still very mysterious,” Richards said. “I think that’s part of his nature, of who he is. Through the pieces he writes, I think we can learn a little bit about him. This one is a good indication of his style of tunes presented in a calm, very Zen way. The translation for the title refers to the beams of sunlight filtering through the leaves of the trees in the forest (depicted visually on the album cover). That is also a very Zen thing.”
But perhaps more than its technical proficiency and stylistic thrill-seeking, the magic to the trio’s longevity (it celebrated its 26th anniversary in February) has been its personal bond, which Richards said has grown as strong as its music through the years.
“We never forget we’re together in service of the music and that we have this privilege of performing. People are still coming to see us play, too. In many cases, the audience seems to be still growing, which is a great thing. Hopefully, we can continue this good vibe for another 20 years.
“I think we were just really lucky from the beginning. Maybe that was part of the thing that drew us together. Maybe it was just the fact that we could have this friendship. Music then became one of the bonuses.”
If you go
California Guitar Trio
When: 7:30 p.m. April 6
Where: Kentucky Coffeetree Café, 235 W. Broadway in Frankfort