California Guitar Trio - The First Decade

Year of Release: 2003
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 129
Format: CD
Total Time: 50:26:00

In this age when bands form and then disintegrate with the release of their first album, if they make it that far, 10 years together is something to celebrate. Yes, Rush, and The Rolling Stones are all extraordinary exceptions (though not the only ones), all logging more than 30 years. In the ten years and counting category are the California Guitar Trio. It's a concept such that, if pitched ? a trio of guitarists, mainly playing acoustic, performing their own compositions (mainly) ? probably wouldn't sell, seeming either to have a very short shelf life or to be just riding the now exhausted (and trite) "unplugged" trend. CGT, are neither. The first is proved by their longevity, the second is proved by their "pedigree" (i.e. history). Part of that history is documented on The First Decade (see, what an optimistic trio of lads; of course, of late they've added guests drummer Pat Mastelotto and bassist Tony Levin to their line up, as on their last studio release CG3 2).

I have always loved the sound of an acoustic guitar, so right away this release had appeal to my ears. Of course, I have already heard their live At The Key Club and seen them live at NEARFest 2001, so I have come to this retrospective as a fan. And, for those pieces that I wasn't already familiar with from the live performances, all I can say is? my "fan" status has solidified further. This is a trio that can play everything from rock to country to blues to bluegrass and everything in between, and any off-shoot you can think of. This multiple personality is on full display in "Train To Lamy Suite (Parts 1 ? 3)," which closes with a very sedate and mellow passage that is in direct contrast to the energetic opening passages, launched by a cool bit of distorted slide guitar. The diversity continues with "Train To Lamy (Part 5)," a spicy, twangy, cheeful piece. A bit of a classical feel enters with "Invitation," though it isn't strictly classical. And avant-jazz is the order of the day with "Happy Time In Fun Town" ? well, this trio were students of Robert Fripps after all, so avant- anything is no stranger to them. In this piece, it is not just the trio, as squonking sax (Bill Janssen) can be heard, as can fretless bass (our man Levin). That blues element is most strong felt in the first track here, "Yamanashi Blues" which has a classic blues feel.

All of the tracks are CGT originals, though their album releases have contained a fair amount of covers. The first six tracks are taken from their first album Yamanashi Blues; tracks 8 through 10 and 19 from Invitation, 11 through 16 from Pathways, and the two live tracks, "Invitation" and, from Rocks The West, "Happy Time In Fun Town." The pieces themselves are rather short, barely exceeding three minutes, with a couple of exceptions. So, the selections here don't represent necessarily a "best of" in the true sense, but a compendium of original tracks over the past decade. I love the rich warm tones, the crisp sound of the strings, everything really, but I mention some specifically, in no particular order:

"Kan-Non Power" is an aggressive, dark, brooding, and, in a quiet way (ironically) menacing piece with distorted guitars, and a deep, loose-stringed, bass-like tone from one (no bass is credited); "Melrose Ave" is lively, friendly piece with a lot of great dynamics, an instantly recognizable rhythm that allows the trio to demonstrate that they can stop in unison on a dime (this may be my most favourite); there's a warm, languid and summer-twilight feel to "Punta Patri" where deep into the track, a few shimmery passages recall the opening notes of Rush's "Closer To The Heart"; in the atmospheric and moody "Above The Clouds" you'd swear there were keyboards on the track, but no, it's guitar here again (maybe guitar synth), playing very warm, rich sustained (and amplified) notes over the gentle backing of lightly strummed acoustics. ("Arroyo" is another muted, somber piece).

Because it only shows a side of CGT ? their compositional side ? it's really only half the story. But view it not only as a nice album in and of itself, but entré to their entire catalog, where you will find nuggets they didn't write, but in many cases, make their own. As a collection in concept, it's better than average ? if you aren't in a position to have "hits" (e.g. no radio airplay), this is the next best option. The music itself is, however, well above average. And it might signal that the next decade will feature more originals and few covers? we'll see.

Also released by InsideOut Music America (IOMACD 2061)

Yamanashi Blues (2:22) / Melrose Avenue (2:11) / Beeline (1:20) / Carnival (1:46) / Blockhead (2:17) / Kan-Non Power (3:17) / Train to Lamy Suite (Pts 1 ? 3) (4:22) / Punta Patri (4:22) / Train To Lamy (Pt 5) (2:04) / Above The Clouds (5:34) / Arroyo (3:39) / Pathways (4:29) / Great Divide (2:32) / Scramble (2:00) / Kaleidoscope (0:56) / Ananda (2:46) / Invitation (2:49) / Happy Time In Fun Town (3:17) / Train To Lamy Pt 3 (Reprise) (1:16)

Paul Richards - guitar, slide guitar, e-bow, guitar loops
Bert Lams - guitar
Hideyo Moriya - guitar
Trey Gunn - guitar
Tony Levin - Stick
Bill Janssen - saxophone
Roger Lambson Warr - saxophone

The Bridge Between
Yamanashi Blues
Pathways (1998)
An Opening Act: Live On Tour With King Crimson
Rocks The West (2000)
Monday Night In San Francisco
Live At The Key Club (2001)
CG3+2 (2002)
A Christmas Album (2002)
The First Decade (2003)
Whitewater (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: May 2nd 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 911
Language: english


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