Innovative virtuoso . . . Self-proclaimed “sucker for a good song,” . . .
. . . Trevor Gordon Hall rocks the McCoy . . . makes Hawaii debut
Acclaimed for his intricate, melodic playing style, guitar virtuoso Trevor Gordon Hall has impressed fellow musicians including rock legend Steve Miller, who performed in concert with him earlier this year.
“I played an all-star lineup gig with Steve Miller, Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna) and John Mayer,” Hall explains. “I was on stage next to Steve Miller playing ‘The Joker.’ He turned to me and said, ‘Alright, kalimba solo.’ I barely pulled it off. Steve has been very supportive of my music. It meant the world to me.”
Hall is not only an amazing guitarist, he is also adept at playing an African finger piano known as a kalimba — both at the same time.
For those not familiar with the kalimba, it was featured in the music of Earth Wind & Fire and has been heard on Maui over the years played by touring African musicians.
Entranced by the haunting sound, Hall decided to design an instrument combining a kalimba and an acoustic guitar, which he calls the “kalimbatar.”
“I’ve always loved metal ringing instruments and I heard somebody playing a kalimba at an African Art exhibit in Philadelphia about 10 years ago,” he says. “The sound was huge out of this small tiny box, and that set me down the path of designing them myself and buying different ones and trying to find the best version I could. With a (luthier) builder in Canada, Sheldon Schwartz, we took a couple of years to fine-tune, trying different metal and wood combinations, so the most recent one was quite a project, but it’s working so far.
“I just loved the tone of the kalimba itself. A lot of the kalimba music I’d come across is very rhythmic. The sound was so intriguing to me, I wanted to explore what could be done with it melodically. I looked up the history and, apparently, when the Portuguese explorers landed in West Africa in the 1400s they found versions of them in every village that were tuned differently, and they were based on whatever the folk tradition was in the village. So I had kind of hopped right into the heart of the tradition of the kalimba, which is to change it and come up with tuning the songs you want to play. I didn’t realize it, but I was being very reverent to the spirit of the instrument.”
How complicated is it to try and play a kalimba and guitar at the same time?
“It is a headache, but it’s worth it,” he reports. “It’s definitely a labor of love. I came up with a color-coding system so I can see where I’m at, but it’s not easy.”
Rated one of the top 30 guitarists in the world under 30 years of age by Acoustic Guitar magazine, Hall has been praised by John Mayer for his, “whole new approach to the instrument.”
Grammy-winning guitarist and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman reported: “Trevor is one of the few post-Michael Hedges guitarists who has managed to incorporate that vast repository of innovation while having an artistic voice strong enough to steadfastly avoid imitation.”
Graham Nash is also a fan.
“In the genre of intriguing guitarist, Trevor really stand out,” Nash praised. “His music is both soothing and challenging.”
Over the years, Hill has taken on the daunting task of adapting some popular pieces to the “kalimbatar,” including Claude Debussy’s famous “Clair de Lune.”
“That took me about three years,” he notes. “I felt like if I could accomplish that on my deathbed, I could go, ‘I did “Clair de Lune” on a kalimba.’ It was quite a project. I wanted to see if it was possible. If someone would’ve explained to me what it would take, I wouldn’t have done it. But after I got into it and started arranging and practicing it, then I was determined to finish it.”
As far as contemporary tunes, he’s arranged versions of Coldplay’s “Fix You” and the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
“I love guitar, but I’m just a sucker for a really good song,” he says. “A lot of times, part of my practicing is literally playing melodies that I love to listen to. I’ll come across a song and an arrangement is born. I also did (the Beatles’) ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ and I’m doing a full kalimba version of McCartney’s ‘I Will.’ I’ll play that one on Maui as well as ‘Come Together.’ The Beatles informed so many of my musical decisions. I always try to pay homage to them.”
Growing up, he was influenced by his mother’s record collection.
“She loved classical music so we had Bach, and she loved Judy Collins and the Beatles, but she really loved acoustic guitar music particularly from Windham Hill, like Michael Hedges and Will Ackerman. Those really informed a lot of the textures and mood of the music. It was with me from a young age.”
He cites guitar virtuosos Hedges and Pat Metheny as primary influences on his own instrumental music.
“I love Pat Metheny,” he enthuses. “I got into Pat Metheny later. A teacher introduced me to Coltrane when I was 14, and I got into all that stuff, and then I got to Pat a couple of years after that. He was like the height of human potential. All of it gets thrown into the well that I pull from when I’m writing.”
Often composing beautiful, pastoral pieces for acoustic guitar, in 2016 he went electric, opening up a whole new world releasing the album “Late Night With Headphones Vol 1.”
“I hadn’t played electric guitar for a couple of years, and I just sat down to see what would happen,” he explains. “I wasn’t expecting much. Different ideas were coming out and I could feel a record coming on. That project was a break from the acoustic thing for a little while. As I explored the electric guitar, I discovered new shapes and territory, but it still had a similar emotional feel to me as the acoustic. I just recorded another project with electric guitar, and I’m really enjoying exploring that. Hopefully my fan base is open to that, that it’s not going to be another acoustic and another acoustic.
I want to change and continue to explore.”
One of the most sublime, dreamy tracks on the album, “Uthaf,” was inspired by a trip to Iceland.
” ‘Uthaf’ means ocean or sea,” he says. “One day in Iceland, I had a layover after the concert, and I got caught in a rainstorm looking over the North Atlantic. It felt like being stranded in this undiscovered landscape looking out at the sea. It really inspired an ambient, flowing feel. The end of the record is about the same moment. ‘Himinn’ is the Icelandic word for clouds or heavens. It really affected me. Everywhere I travel gets buried in my subconscious.”
In contrast, he describes the track “Cerebral 3.0.” as a mix of Metheney meets Frank Zappa at a Brazilian barbecue.
“I came up with this really wacky chord progression, and I was trying to find a melody to tie it together,” he says. “It was like weird progressions that Zappa would do, but Pat Metheny would say, ‘No, let’s try it together with a melody.’ It’s a really quirky song.”
Making his Hawaii debut following a tour in Spain and Portugal, Hall will likely entrance his audiences.
“Creating a mood is what I love to do,” he says. “It’s my first time, and I hope to come back.”
Because of weather concerns, the Henry Kapono & Friends concert planned for last Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center was rescheduled to 5 p.m. Sept. 16. Tickets already purchased may be used for the new date. Patrons who are unable to attend the new date can get a full refund by returning their tickets to the box office. All refunds must happen prior to the rescheduled concert date.
As part of its annual East Meets West Festival, Jazz Maui presents a free First Sunday Jazz concert with Prem Brosio from 11 a.m. to noon at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center in Kahului.
Brosio trained as a jazz guitarist in Switzerland, and earned a bachelor of education degree in music from University of Hawaii at Manoa. He teaches choir at Haleakala Waldorf School, performs around the island as a soloist and is a member of the Chop Suey Jazz Orchestra and Maui Chamber Orchestra Chorus.
“I enjoy playing a number of styles including jazz, blues, classical, Hawaiian and slack key, rock and reggae,” he says. “Some of my musical influences include Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Beethoven.”
He has released the album “Sacred Wilderness,” a mix of all original jazz, blues, and fusion compositions.
For more information, call 283-3576 or visit www.jazzmaui.org.