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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

California Guitar Trio

A Christmas Album

Review by Steve Alspach

There's something to be said for Christmas and tradition. Trimming the tree, eggnog, or whatever else it entails; Christmas is a time to indulge in tradition. But if that old record of Yuletide songs and carols has seen better years, or Perry Como just doesn't do it for you like he did when you were a kid, then you'd do well to get this collection of songs by the California Guitar Trio. These three musicians know enough to pay reverence to the classic songs, yet their inventive arrangements sparkle throughout. The musicians on this album are: The California Guitar Trio (Paul Richards, Bert Lams, and Hideyo Moriya), guitars; Bill Janssen and Roger Lambson, saxophone; and Henry Miller, bells.

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Track by Track Review
Carol of the Bells
The trio does a straight-ahead yet spot-on arrangement of this beautiful song.
Oh Christmas Tree
Another no-nonsense arrangement of a traditional standard. The band improvise to add a bit of creativeness, but it never veers from the basic song structure.
Greensleeves (What Child Is This)
The beginning and end sound much like the traditional song, but the middle part gets a bit exploratory. There is use of an e-bow during a somewhat languid passage before the trio goes back into the melody.
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
The guitars sound very much like a harpsichord on this arrangement of Bach's composition. Here the saxophones add to the melody on the bridge.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
This is a short arrangement of a traditional carol, and the trio play the melody only twice. The use of counterpoint lines throughout the verses works extremely well.
Unto Us a Child Is Born
Anything from Handel's Messiah is going to take quite a bit of work to pull off, but the Trio succeed. The melodies are played high on the neck of the guitar to take on the harpsichord sound, and there are also those 16th-note runs that were so common of that era. This track shows that the band's arranging skills are second to none.
Jingle Bells
The band finally has some fun, playing the melody over a riff similar to Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone." In the chorus the band steps up to a double-time pattern with an extremely bouncy bass line. This is the CGT at their trademark best, incorporating disparate musical styles that results in a wonderfully unique piece.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
Originally written by Ryuichi Sakamoto, this is a curious piece to include on the album. Taken from the 1983 movie that starred David Bowie, this piece has an eastern flavor to its rather simple melody - rather appropriate since much of the movie occurs in a Japanese prison camp. The song still works with its simplicity, however.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
This song is a very nice, and very faithful, rendition of the John Lennon tune, and with no Yoko either!
Silent Night
It rarely gets more placid than this. Harmonics, like snowflakes, start the piece, and the band restrains from the more complicated backing patterns to give the song an immediate intimacy.
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