Things come somewhat full circle for the California Guitar Trio on their fifteenth album Komorebi. Having often experimented with all manner of electronics and effects to weave sound textures, here they drift back towards compositions that use their acoustic guitars pure and unadorned. It was made live in a room with a minimal rig, much the same way their earliest recordings were when starting out in 1991 (and the crystal quality on this one is sharp enough to let you feel picks hitting strings). The signature mix of eclectic covers and evocative originals remains cozy as a favorite T-shirt, familiar and accessible to listeners old or new. With this release coincidentally marking their 25th anniversary as a group, the three show that they've only gotten richer with age.
'Komorebi' is a Japanese term for the image of sunlight filtering through trees. The meditative title piece from Hideyo Moriya certainly evokes the feeling with an Eastern song structure that shifts and flows like honey. As usual, each member's writing voice is represented at least once as we go along. Bert Lams' "Claymont Waltz" is a classy nocturne that eloquently portrays the nervous excitement of approaching a step into the unknown. Paul Richards' "Euphoria" lives up to its title in an impressively tasteful way: it smolders subtly rather than blazing with energy, greatly benefiting from the lush shadings of Tony Levin's smooth bass and Petra Haden's melodious vocalese amid some extra strings.
The band's own pieces are disappointingly outnumbered by covers this time around (albeit barely), though they remain open-eared as ever in choosing material regardless of genre. The trio's trademark interplay and note-perfect intricacy make the fluid unison turns of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo à la Turk" seem effortless. It's practically a cliche to tackle any Beatles song by now, though they refreshingly choose one that hasn't been played to death a million times already; meanwhile their fun take on the Beach Boys with "Good Vibrations" also deserves bonus points for including an actual theremin.
While some of the cover songs are straightforward treatments, the most successful comes with the looser arrangement that winds things up. Haden plays the siren again for a gorgeous stirring treatment of her brother Josh's classic "Spiritual," the guitars and Levin's quiet bass creating a heartwarming prairie air to bring things to a peaceful close. While it fades into the sunset, the CGT leave us in no doubt their first 25 years have left them well-seasoned in the best ways. With their insatiable restlessness, no doubt there's only better still to come.
Track Listing: Komorebi; Cherry Trees; Buckaroo; Good Vibrations;
Blue Rondo à la Turk; Wonderful Land; Claymont Waltz;
Glass Tango; Dig a Pony; Euphoria; Spiritual.
Personnel: Paul Richards: guitar; Bert Lams: guitar; Hideyo Moriya:
guitar; Tony Levin: NS upright bass, Chapman Stick (2,
10, 11); Davide Rossi: violin (7); Petra Haden: vocals (10,
11); Nora Germain: violin (10); Tom Griesgraber:
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