Before describing the music of the California Guitar Trio (CG3), it is necessary to summarize their history:
The three met at a guitar seminar held at Robert Fripp's home in England in 1987. They toured the U.S. and U.K. as part of Fripp's "League of Crafty Guitarists" and formalized the band in 1991.
The California GuitarTrio isn't. The "Californian" band comprises Bert Lams (Belgian), Hideyo Moriya (Japanese), and Paul Richards (American). But they are a trio. Usually. They're often joined by luminaries such as John McLaughlin and Tony Levin. Not only are the three musicians from disparate geographical locations – they have varied musical backgrounds as well: classical music for Lams, jazz and rock for Richards, and "surf" music for Moriya.
As the title suggests The First Decade is a "best-of" musical summary of the group's music to date. It is unfortunate that they did not include their brilliant arrangements of Bach and Beethoven, or their well known interpretation of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Still – nineteen tracks in 53 minutes is a lot of music, and The First Decade is an excellent starting point for first timers. The long list of titles would suggest an unrelated hodge podge of songs, but although they were collected from a variety of past recordings, they fit together very well and the album flows nicely. It is easy to listen to the whole CD in one sitting.
The entire album is acoustic guitar based instrumentals. You'd think that 53 minutes of that would be boring, but these virtuosos weave complex textures and layers into each song, and the surprising mixture of styles range from country, to world music, to bluegrass, to jazz, to rock, to Hawaiian, to neoclassical. The album is rich in rhythmic and melodic complexities, no two tracks are the same, and CG3 creates sounds that are way beyond the constraints of their instruments. The occasional inclusion of a guest artist adds welcome variety, and CG3 conveys the feel of a full band. And here's an important observation: Not a single track uses a drum machine! Their impeccable sense of rhythm makes percussion frankly unnecessary – and your feet will be tapping anyway.
Listening to CG3 is a pleasant experience, something akin to listening to classical music. The outstanding musicianship is evident in every bar, but it doesn't dominate your attention, and the album can be played as laid back, easy listening.
Expect to be blown away by the technique and the range of sounds. But there are two caveats: First, do not expect heavy music. For all its brilliance this music is light. And secondly – less educated listeners will find it somewhat monotonous.
CG3's music is much better appreciated live than on CD. Which is okay, since they have toured extensively for their entire first decade. Check the band's home page for their tour schedule, because they will soon be in a town near you.
Go and see them!