An Interview with Trevor Gordon Hall

Guitarist’s unique instrument perfect for his personal expression

By Ross Boissoneau

Some people just aren’t satisfied. Take guitarist Trevor Gordon Hall. After practicing, performing and recording for years, he abandoned his guitar for a kalimba.

Okay, that’s an overreach. He never even entertained the thought of giving up guitar, but he did embrace the sound of the African thumb piano – so much so that he bolted one onto his guitar. These days, the resulting kalimbatar is his favored instrument for performances. And he’s gotten accolades from across the musical spectrum. Like this, from trumpet virtuoso Randy Brecker: “His way of adding tapped rhythms and a kalimba (‘Kalimbatar’) to his arsenal of wonderful heartfelt music is sure to astound you! Bravo.”

To be sure, Hall started out on guitar, inspired by his parents’ music. “My mom loved Windham Hill: Will Ackerman, Michael Hedges, George Winston. Bach, Judy Collins – it all seeped in by the time I was 10 and picked up a guitar for the first time,” he says.

He was captivated by the sound, the feel, even the look. “I loved how cool people looked playing it. I played piano by ear as a kid, but piano never quite clicked. The guitar felt more intuitive.”

Trevor Gordon Hall

Trevor Gordon Hall

He was similarly captivated years later when he first heard a kalimba at the Philadelphia Art Museum. The sound resonated with him, and he purchased one and began playing it. His musical experiments bore fruit when he attached one to his guitar and began using the instrument to expand his musical palette.

He’s garnered praise from the likes of Steve Hackett, Graham Nash, Phil Keaggy, and Tommy Emmanuel, who says of him, “Trevor is very skilled. His compositions are beautiful, atmospheric, open and heartfelt.”

Hall returns the favor and the praise, and is thrilled to play alongside Emmanuel. “I’ve got a couple dates performing with Tommy,” he enthuses.

After that he’ll be recording with fellow guitarists Andy McKee and Calum Graham. “It’s a trio project. We’ll be on the road most of next year,” he says. With his kalimbatar and his compatriots on acoustic guitar, harp guitar, baritone guitar, even electric guitar, the recording and shows will no doubt provide enough sights and especially sounds to please any audience. “We’ll have every part of the sonic experience covered.”

Hall’s recordings are comprised of both favorite tunes he’s grown up with and originals. In his bio, his own efforts are described as “highly textured soundscapes that engulf the listener in melody and rhythm, while others carve out a space for reflection and stillness.” He says that comes from his songwriting mantra: Chase the chills. “That’s the idea, those little moments,” he says.

Onstage, it’s all about connecting with the music. “When I can get out of my own head, my own way, I can curate the experience. The guitar and I disappear, it’s just the song. Then it’s exhilarating.”

The audience provides him with feedback and energy, but he’s mindful of the differences in audiences across nations and cultures. “The UK culture is different. They’re not clapping a lot during the performance. They’re much more reserved. I (try to) get a feel for the room, but I’m not in control of their experience,” he says.

Hall is quick to praise Canadian luthier Sheldon Schwartz, with whom he designed and who built his kalimbatar. He’s currently using D’Addario XS strings. “I love the feel, the sound and the durability.”

He’s also eschewing different tunings most of the time. “I like the depth and color of other tunings, and some melodies lay out better in other tunings.” But he acknowledges that changing the tuning between songs can take away from the onstage experience for both performer and audience.

“After 5-7 years, I’m coming back to a love of standard tuning,” he says. “I just got back from shows in Portugal, and I did it all in standard tuning except the last song.”

Ross Boissoneau is a regular contributor to Something Else! Reviews, Northern Express and Local Spins. He’s written for the All Music Guide, Jazziz and Progression Magazines, and is a member of the Downbeat Critics Poll.

Ross Boissoneau

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