Kotaro Oshio,
(Narada, 2003)

I was greatly impressed by Japanese guitarist Kotaro Oshio's first CD, Starting Point, and my feelings are similar toward this second album. I'm generally not a fan of the kind of monotonous, repetitive music that frequently goes under the name of "new age," as does this Narada CD, but this strikes me more as the kind of "new acoustic" music featured so well by Compass and other small labels.

This is solo acoustic guitar played at a high level of skill, frequently with intense, driving rhythms. Oshio's chops are amazing, and the album was apparently recorded, as was the first, without multi-tracking, so that what we hear is how Oshio would sound live. Someday I'd like to see him live in order to believe it. His technique is astounding.

The first track, the propulsive "Splash," sounds like at least three guitars are playing, as does "Sun Dance." Oshio is a band on his own, or at the least a jazz quartet. Along with the melody line (often heard in two-part harmony), he supplies the bass line, the percussion and the sense of a piano comping chords. The bass notes have the heft of a string bass, yet the treble notes are bright and ringing. While the first two tracks roll swiftly along, "Wind Song" slows down so that we can more attentively examine Oshio's technique, and the recording is so clean that we hear the movement of fingers on strings, including those scrapes that add authenticity to the mix and remind us that it's a man and not a machine making this music. The beauty and serenity of his tone are well displayed here, while "Happy Island" is a joyous mid-tempo tune that shows off his uncanny ability with rhythmic fills.

The next two tracks, solo guitar arrangements of Pachelbel's "Canon in D" and Ravel's "Bolero," come perilously close to kitsch, but Oshio's technique is so splendid that we're able to accept it as an actual classical performance in the vein of Segovia rather than as a pop/classic crossover. "Changing Skies" is a bright and upbeat tune that makes us wonder once again how many additional hands Oshio has, while "Promises" uses some ethereal harmonics. Harmonics also play a great part in the exciting "Chaser," followed by the lush and lovely "Prologue," originally written for a film score. The CD comes to a satisfying end with "Again...," which gives a last look at all of Oshio's prodigious skills.

While the Oshio-penned liner notes are a bit over the top ("Go forth! On to a world of dreams and hopes!") the music provides sublimity enough. Acoustic guitar aficionados should delight in the wealth of superb playing to be found here.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 1 May 2004

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