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Somewhere deep within the town of Precision – which lies perilously close to the active volcano, Mt. Pretension – lies the California Guitar Trio. The three acoustic guitar virtuosos that make up this eclectic band, Bert Lams, Paul Richards, and Hideyo Moriya are summa cum laude graduates from Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitar Players. This pedigree is not surprising once you’ve spent some time listening to them - their guitar playing is practically flawless, both rhythmically and melodically. Their capabilities run the gamut of almost every known form of music, and they’re main focus on rocks the west is to make sure you are aware of their incredible versatility. Ranging from awe-inspiring (their arrangement and performance of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is simply beautiful) to downright audacious (Arranging Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for three acoustic guitars is a bit TOO over-the-top), rocks the west will definitely grab your ear and demand your attention. These fellows are simply masters of their instruments, and it shows – even in their less successful arrangements and compositions.
Lams, Richards, and Moriya are joined at times by prolific stick-man Tony Levin, and saxophonist Bill Janssen, and while Levin and Janssen certainly add to the weight of the tracks they contribute to, the guitarists are clearly (and deservedly) the stars of the show. These guys leave no musical stone unturned, going from classical to jazz to rockabilly and back in a dizzying display of 6-string versatility. Their incredible arranging capabilities are apparent in their adaptations of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (arranged by Lams) and Yatsuhashi Kengyo’s Rokudan (arranged by Moriya); even when the results are less than stellar (Lams’ adaptation of “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t come off too well), CGT must be admired for their adventurous spirit.
Actually, some of the strongest cuts on the album are not their interpretations of other’s work, but their own compositions. The opening cut “Scramble” – penned by all three guitarist – is an excellent example of their guitar playing abilities, and shows-off some nice interlocking guitar work reminiscent of 80’s-era Crimson. Lams’ “Punta Patri” is a very pleasant journey through a harmonics-filled soundscape accompanied by some beautiful low-end work from Mr. Levin. However, there are times when the group becomes too clever for their own good: Janssen’s “Blue-eyed Monkey” and the group-penned “Happy Time in Fun Town” are both a bit too chaotic – they’re either poor compositions or bad improvs. Fortunately, these trip-ups are few and far between, and songs like the Richards penned “Blockhead” more than make up for the occasional miss. “Blockhead” – which closes the album – features some fantastic chord structures and excellent soloing by saxophonist Janssen, and is a perfect way to finish up an impressive effort from CGT.
rocks the west is an excellent example of an instance where the total of a band is definitely more than the sum of its parts. The variety of sounds that come out of these three guitars is nothing short of amazing – these guys are constantly in musical motion, daring the listeners to guess what they’re going to try next. And even though most of the time your guesses will most likely be wrong, you’ll be glad at what you hear nonetheless. Simply put, if you are a fan of acoustic guitar your collection is incomplete without a CGT album, and rocks the west is a very good one to start with.