Music News & Reviews

Musical journey leads to Frankfort

Fabio Mittino and Bert Lams perform Friday at the Kentucky Coffee Tree Café in Frankfort.
Fabio Mittino and Bert Lams perform Friday at the Kentucky Coffee Tree Café in Frankfort.

Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino

8 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café, 235 W. Broadway in Frankfort. $20. 502-875-3000.

Grab your passports, folks, we’re going on a trip. Well, not in the literal sense, perhaps.

But the international pathways to be explored in Friday night’s guitar duo performance at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café in Frankfort by Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino constitute an overseas journey of sorts.

Here’s the travelogue checklist: Lams, one-third of the popular California Guitar Trio, hails from Belgium. His performance partner for a brief winter tour is a former student, Italian-born guitarist Mittino. Their favored repertoire Friday, which also fortifies their fine new Long Ago album, will be the works of Russian/Armenian composer/philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and his Russian/Ukranian protégé, Thomas Alexandrovich de Hartmann.

Oh, yes, did we mention Lams and Fittino met in England while studying with British guitarist/King Crimson chieftain Robert Fripp? (See related album review, Page 13.) Those are the destinations that begin Friday night in Frankfort.

“Robert suggested that Fabio take some guitar lessons with me,” Lams recalls of his initial meeting with Mittino. “This was 20 years ago. Fabio is a lot younger than I am. He was really a kid then who traveled all the way from Milan twice or three times to take some lessons. Then we started playing together and gradually became friends.”

The music of Long Ago evokes exactly what its title suggests. Gurdjieff gathered melodies during travels through the Middle East, Far East and Africa. Often with de Hartmann’s assistance, the music was fashioned into pieces for piano. Initial exposure in North America to the resulting compositions came through artists including pianist Keith Jarrett. But Long Ago represents the first time that Gurdjieff’s work has been so extensively transcribed for, and subsequently performed on, guitar.

“Most of this music came from what Gurdjieff heard during his early travels,” Lams says. “Gurdjieff’s father was a professional storyteller, so he was steeped in this oral tradition. He seemed to remember most of these melodies that he heard a long time ago. But he needed someone like de Hartmann to translate it, because Gurdjieff couldn’t really play very much. He could sing a little bit, play guitar with one finger and play a little bit on the harmonium, but he wasn’t a totally accomplished piano player or anything. It was de Hartmann who really brought that to us.”

For Milan native Mittino, an early fascination with Gurdjeff paralleled the discovery of The Bridge Between, a 1993 album by the Robert Fripp String Quartet.

That band was a progressive-minded joint venture between the then-newly formed California Guitar Trio and two members (Fripp and stick player Trey Gunn) of the soon-to-be-relaunched King Crimson.

“I was studying with a classical teacher at the conservatory in Milan, but when I heard that CD by the Robert Fripp String Quartet, it just blew my mind,” Mittano says. “I thought, ‘OK, I want to absorb and learn this language.’ I knew in order to do that, I had to go to the source. That was how I met Bert.

“The same thing happened with Gurdjieff. I heard this piano piece (Allegretto, which is featured on Long Ago) and it became one of my favorites. So I wanted to learn how to play this music. I discovered nobody transcribed it for guitar, so that was the beginning of my work on that music.”

There is delicate intimacy to the Hindu, Kurdish and Armenian mazurkas, dances and folk tunes that Gurdjieff and de Hartmann appropriated for the music that makes up Long Ago. One can sense the lyricism that piano would lend to these works, but the expression the tunes yield in a guitar duo setting becomes rich and often harmonious.

“The reason we play this music is simply because it spoke to us,” Lams says. “But we also like doing something that has never been done before. The guitar brings to this music a sort of new life because until now it has mostly been played on the piano.

“The piano is a beautiful instrument, but it has a very authoritative sound. When you play some of this music on the guitar, it has a much more intimate sound. Most people come to me after a show and say they were moved by it. They were touched by it. I think the guitar can do that in a different way.

“Still, there is something in this music, regardless of what instrument you play it on, that needs discovering. For us, it feels like we discover something new every night in front of the audience. It’s very exciting.”

Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at