And then there were six California Guitar Trio & Montreal Guitar Trio
CALIFORNIA GUITAR TRIO & MONTREAL GUITAR TRIO
The California Guitar Trio apparently loves Santa Fe. The group has performed here 10 times since 1993, in nearly as many venues (including Santuario de Guadalupe, Santa Fe Brewing Co., and Garrett’s Desert Inn). On Sunday, Feb. 12, the group teams up with the Montreal Guitar Trio to play for a larger audience at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. The six-guitar ensemble promises to electrify. The CGT has recorded 15 albums, including its 1994 debut Yamanashi Blues, which features original compositions and versions of several works by J.S. Bach and of the 1960 Ventures hit “Walk, Don’t Run.” Other group favorites over the years include Modest Mussorgsky, Queen, Dave Brubeck, Samuel Barber, Yes, and Eddy Arnold.
Each of the California Guitar Trio members brings a particular flavor to the fusion of the three. Bert Lams, from Belgium, is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, and adores the music of Bach. Paul Richards of Salt Lake City is centered in the world of jazz and rock ’n’ roll. And Tokyo native Hideyo Moriya began his explorations riffing on the surf-guitar style of the Ventures. It is noteworthy that the three were brought together by King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp — Moriya, Lams, and Richards met in 1987 in England, where they had gone to participate in Fripp’s Guitar Craft workshops.
The trio members have sometimes used effects pedals and electronic samples, but on their newest album,
Komorebi, they focus on the natural sound of the acoustic guitar — specifically, their Oregon-made Breedlove guitars. The bright sound of the CGT playing steel strings contrasts with the softer timbre of the three musicians from Montreal, who use nylon strings on guitars made by Bruno Boutin of Magog, Quebec.
Marc Morin, Glenn Lévesque, and Sébastien Dufour returned to their trio’s roots, classical Spanish music, on their recently released seventh album. Similar to their earliest work together almost two decades ago, Danzas explores flamenco-tinged songs by Manuel de Falla, Paco de Lucía, and Agustin Barrios Mangoré. In concert, however, they are just as eclectic as the California group. “It’s going be a blend of original compositions and music from all of our influences, world music and rearrangements of rock hits from the Beatles and Radiohead and David Bowie, but we do it our way,” Morin said from his home in Montreal.
“We’ve been together for almost 20 years now, and we’re all multi-instrumentalists — and at some point all the instruments we play, even if it’s not on purpose, leak into the trio. We started doing some vocals maybe 10 years ago, and sometimes we use other instruments, too. I myself have played a lot of bass guitar the last couple of years. and I play the accordion. There can also be mandolin and charango in our trio.”
The six guitarists sharing the Lensic stage have known one another since 2010. “The guitar ensemble world is a small world, so we had heard about each other,” Morin said. “We were happy to finally meet at a music conference and we chatted. And just by pure coincidence we had booked the same flight, and we talked some more and we thought maybe we should do something together. We didn’t have an idea how long it would last, but it’s been seven years now that we have been touring with them every year. We really enjoy playing together.”
How do the six guitarists separate their musical roles? Morin said it has been a challenge for both groups since the beginning. “In a guitar trio, also, you have to plan those things not to step on each other’s feet. The thing is that both groups had done this work for many, many years before we got together. And even if we didn’t know each other, we all had the same sort of experience — of giving space and planning it out — so musically it’s not confused. It stays clear, and it enhances the blend.
“The chemistry between both groups has been the main reason for our longevity. It was the first thing that surprised us. In our first rehearsal in Montreal in 2010, we were completely flabbergasted that it worked so well. It was like, What just happened here? We were really excited. It was like having a new toy.”
Morin emphasized that when the California and Montreal trios perform together, they do so as a unit. Rather than the members of each trio sitting together, they mingle: It is a sextet. He wasn’t positive that this sort of sextet is unique in the world, mentioning classical guitar orchestras, including one in Canada that has a dozen members. And while much of this sextet’s material is nonclassical, there is more of a relation with the traditional orchestra than with the jazz combo.
“What we do is not that much improvised. This concert is not a jam at all, but there is a bit of improvisation sometimes,” said Morin. In a 2014 interview, Richards told Pasatiempo that the California Guitar Trio’s performances are less spontaneous than those of jazz groups. “There might be some improvised solos here and there, but a lot of the music is composed — though it may have originally been based on improvisation.”
Morin continued, “The idea is to have all the resources of all those players, to have every player in the right place, and it’s like an orchestra. There are lots of arrangements we work hard on, and if it doesn’t work, we change things. We have more and more original music for the sextet. We’re almost done recording our second album, which is mostly original music.”
In Santa Fe, they will play a lot of original music, pieces that may have had their genesis in hotel-room woodshedding on tour, or in more solitary sesssions. “We like to change the approach with writing, just as we like to change the approach in recording,” Morin said. “We never record twice the same way. The Montreal Guitar Trio just released one last week [Danzas] that is more a classical approach. We like to vary because it brings something fresh in the music. After 20 or 25 years, it keeps you alert,” he said, laughing. “It keeps you young.”
▼ California Guitar Trio & Montreal Guitar Trio
▼ 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12
▼ Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
▼ $20-$55; 505-988-1234, www.ticketssantafe.org
The Montreal Guitar Trio
California Guitar Trio