It’s not everyday that I have the honor of writing about “The World’s Premier Kalimbatarist.” That’s probably because, as far as I know, Trevor Gordon Hall may be the world’s only kalimbatarist. But that is what makes him special and stand out in a crowded field of acoustic guitar players. So the obvious question now is: what is a kalimbatar?
According to Trevor’s promo material: “In 2010, inspired by his studies and always on the hunt for new sounds to utilize, Trevor collaborated with various builders to redesign an instrument called the kalimba (African finger piano). He designed a version that sits flat on the top of the guitar and spans 2 octaves of the piano. The instrument combination, which Trevor calls the “kalimbatar,” is opening up new possibilities for solo instrumental music.” In Trevor’s own words: “the kalimba is such a neat instrument. I have taken the concepts and re-designed them a few times now with some great minds to help arrive at this present kalimba. Still tweaking but the tuning I came up with works for any western melody and harmony now so that’s progress! Combining it with the guitar has been a long journey with lots of builders and failures, but we did it finally!”
As a guitarist and owner of a kalimba myself, I have to say that this hybrid instrument Trevor has created is quite innovative. But even more so, is the unusual technique he uses to play it. When I first saw a picture of the kalimbatar, I wondered how anyone with only two hands could play both the guitar and finger piano parts of it at the same time. But after seeing a video of Trevor performing with it, I was amazed at the style he has developed where he taps out notes and melodies on the guitar fretboard with his left hand while simultaneously playing the kalimba mounted on the guitar body with his right hand. On top of that, Trevor also adds a rhythmic element by slapping the body of the guitar percussively in time with the music. It is an ingenious technique that requires tremendous skill, dexterity and focus – all of which Trevor possesses in abundance.
As I came to find out, I’m certainly not alone in being impressed with the prodigious musical talents of this young instrumentalist. His playing has caught the attention of a surprising number of high profile people in the music business. Here is a sampling of the praise he has received:
“…In the genre of intriguing guitar players Trevor really stands out. His music is both soothing and challenging…”
Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills, and Nash)
“…Very inventive concept and excellent performance…”
Laurence Juber (Grammy winning former guitarist for Paul McCartney’s Wings)
“…Trevor Gordon Hall is clearly talented and his music is engaging. He has an innovative approach and I enjoyed listening…”
Steve Hackett (Genesis)
“…Creative imagination resides, as well as flourishes within certain artists, and it certainly does so in Trevor Gordon Hall. Ingenuity is something that always causes surprise, and this gentleman’s abilities are totally exceptional…”
Pat Martino (Legendary jazz guitarist)
These are but a few of the many admiring comments from highly regarded industry veterans that Trevor has received thus far in his emerging career. Another one is from none other than Grammy winning producer, acoustic guitar virtuoso, and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackermanwho actually co-produced Trevor’s new recording along with engineer/production master Tom Eatonat the famed Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont. According to Trevor: “Some aspects of the record were very difficult but Imaginary Road studios helped me put all of it together into one cohesive work that fully represents what believe, who I am, and what my musical vision is. I am tremendously grateful for the experience. I will cherish it for many years to come.” Reciprocally, Will called Trevor: “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.” It was interesting that Will mentioned Michael Hedges, because I immediately felt a bit of his influence on particular songs.
The album opens with a short piece, appropriately entitled “Intro,” played on the kalimba. While it is only about a half a minute in length, this was a smart move, in that it acclimates the listener to the sound of the kalimba by itself, compared to how it is used later in a more intricate mix with the guitar sounds. “Intro” segues directly into track 2, “Morning Sidewalk 3.0,” which leaps in with both feet (or more appropriately, both hands) into the dynamic high-energy side of Trevor’s guitar playing, accented by the above-mentioned percussive effects. His ability to both thump and slap the guitar body, which approximates a kick and snare drum, while simultaneously playing detailed patterns on the guitar is amazing, especially for someone at this early stage in his career. I should point out that this Philadelphia area artist is relatively young and was rated as one of the top 30 guitarists in the world under the age of 30 by Acoustic Guitarist Magazine.
A track entitled “The Blue Hour” reveals a different aspect of Trevor’s musical personality that is softer and more melodic. For some reason this song created an image in my mind of snowflakes gently falling – quite lovely. As I continued to listen, I found that most of the songs were in this mellower mood, with the high-velocity playing of the earlier-mentioned track being more the exception than the rule on the album. I particularly liked the light and lilting jazzy feel of “Almost Spring” and “My Dearest.” While the kalimba is very cool and novel in conjunction with the guitar, I appreciated that Trevor used it sparingly throughout the album rather than on every track. Although it is a distinctive addition when heard, the focus is definitely on his guitar work.
“Midnight and Raining,” is a beautiful and sensitive piece where Trevor utilizes the element of space in his guitar playing to effectively add ambience and a sense of serenity. The kalimba accents are somewhat sparse and gentle rather than rhythmic, drawing more on the instrument’s piano side than it’s percussive possibilities. It’s not until the next to the last track that Trevor picks up the tempo with a higher energy piece called “Turning Ruts Into Grooves.” Another guitar technique heard here, as well as throughout the album that Trevor is very effective at using are harmonics, which refer to the bell-like tones one gets by damping specific frets on the guitar’s fingerboard. These are also found in abundance on the final track, “Short Story,” which brings the album to a peaceful conclusion.
While there is no doubt that Trevor Gordon Hall has achieved a level of virtuosity beyond his years, I appreciate the perspective Will Ackerman brings to it: “However technically proficient Trevor is, he is not one of the swarm of guitarists who revel in guitar gymnastics for their sake alone. His technique follows artistic expression, as it should. Trevor is capable of a range of styles while having every note seem to express something sincere and meaningful to him.” This search for meaning in the music is of great importance to Trevor. In his own words: “Making Mind Heart Fingers was a deeply reflective experience for me. It got me in touch with what I believe deepest musically and personally.”
I emphatically agree with Will when he states: “This is a fine debut from a guitarist we will need to pay attention to…” In addition to being greatly impressed with Trevor’s outstanding technique, I sincerely enjoyed every track on the album and appreciated the many facets of his musical spectrum. Mind Heart Fingers is not only unique, inventive, and technically stunning, but also creates a wonderful mood and provides a relaxed yet uplifting listening experience.