Alejandro Guillen, left, Luisa West and Jimmy Patton are Calima.

Universal instrument

The trio Calima shows the guitar's
versatility by playing music
from around the globe

Eclecticism, it seems, is a prerequisite to forming an acoustic guitar combo these days. From the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet to Cerro Negro (both of whom have played Honolulu this year) to the inimitable Strunz and Farah, the true test of a guitar-based outfit is its ability to navigate its way through a myriad of musical styles.

Calima: World Music Trio

>> 7:30 tomorrow, Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College, 720 Keaahala Road, Kaneohe. Tickets $20 general, $18 seniors and military, and $15 students and children. Call 235-7433.

>> 7:30 p.m. Friday, Atherton Performing Arts Studio, Hawaii Public Radio, 738 Kaheka St. Tickets $18, available at Harry's Music Store in Kaimuki (735-2866) and Hungry Ear in Kailua (262-2175).

"The guitar is a universal instrument," says Alejandro Guillen, whose group, Calima, will perform at the Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College tomorrow and the Atherton Performing Arts Studio in town Friday, before heading out for dates on Maui and the Big Island. "Back in the days when the guitar was born hundreds of years ago, Spanish conquistadors took the guitar to many places, from Mexico to South America, and pretty much everywhere in the Americas. The guitar was introduced to many cultures. That's why it's such a universal instrument."

Apparently, no one knows the powerful allure the guitar holds over its wielder better than another guitarist. "We've known each other for about 11 years now," Guillen says of bandmate Jimmy Patton, whom he met through a mutual friend while both attended San Diego State University. "Ever since I've known him, he's been playing guitar and I've been playing guitar. I was looking for someone to form a guitar duo at the time and we both liked the same types of music; Latin jazz and flamenco, and we both loved playing."

The pairing, it seemed, couldn't be more perfect. And yet, two years ago, during a harborside performance in Oceanside, Calif., Guillen and Patton were approached by a passerby, flute in hand, who asked the duo if she could join in on the music-making. The pair cheerfully agreed and were soon awestruck by the enchanting sound created by the inclusion of a new voice.

"We were just amazed by her technical ability and musicianship," says Guillen of flautist Luisa West, who would soon round out the Calima trio. "She just pretty much improvised the whole thing and we asked her to play with us more. She brought a nice contrast to the group."

WEST ALSO aided greatly in the expansion of Calima's repertoire, which already boasted such diverse sounds as flamenco, bossa nova and traditional Greek and Persian numbers, infused with a Latin sound. "I've always had an interest in world music," reveals Guillen. "I love music from different cultures, especially Spain. Jimmy and I really like flamenco, while Luisa comes from a jazz background, so what she brings to the table is some American jazz, which we've learned to incorporate into our music."

On occasion, Guillen, Patton and West pursue musical projects outside of Calima, taking on students and outside gigs. In 2001, Patton took first place in the nationwide Guitarmageddon Competition as "Best Unsigned Guitarist in the Nation," beating out more than 3,000 axe-slingers for top honors. He has also performed with, among others, fleet-fingered jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and rocker Tony Macalpine, while West has toured with Grammy-nominated flautist Nestor Torres (who just did this year's Hawaii International Jazz Festival), National Geographic composer and pianist Steve Danez and Latin jazz combo Grogus, who once entertained the Dalai Lama.

Guillen has continued his study of his chosen instrument with guitar masters Pepe Romero, Scott Tenant and Diego Corriente, to name a few.

Over the six years of the group's existence, Calima has played primarily in the Southern California area, though it has always had its sights on other locales. Last year, through a referral by former instructor Fred Benedetti of acclaimed guitar duo Benedetti and Svoboda, Calima performed on the Big Island. So taken with the warm island reception was the group that it decided to return to Hawaii and expand this year's slate of shows to include live dates on Oahu and Maui as well.

"This year, we set up the tour ourselves, booked the events, did all the promoting and all the PR," he explains, before he let out a chuckle. "It is a lot of work. Hopefully, when we come back from Hawaii, we'll have a better idea of how to book a full tour and work on something even bigger next time."

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