Travis Rogers, Jr.
Such Grace and Fire
There is no way to pigeon-hole Toshi Onizuka’s playing. He moves from bossa nova to jazz to Spanish guitar with great fluidity and ease. He can play that percussive flamenco touch but the melody is never sacrificed in his playing. Even at his punchiest, Toshi keeps it close to his heart.
1 - When You Passed By (Toshi Onizuka) Dave Captein on bass, Al Martin on percussion, Toshi on guitars.
The song opens with a slick slide guitar. There is nice interplay between the Spanish guitar and the slide like the back and forth between the watcher and the watched. The slide gives a playful feeling of some guy’s tongue hanging out as he watches the object of his attention go by.
2 - El Chipiron De Triana (Toshi and Matias Trejo - lyrics) Trejo provides the Rap Andaluz in a lusty, gravelly voice. Al Criado’s bass is a cool underpinning of the piece. Toshi’s guitar is added percussion to the throbbing pulse of the work. Fun, playful stuff!
3 – Let Me Think (Toshi) Damian Erskine, bass and Al Martin, congas. Beautiful, daydreaming feeling. There are some sweet chord changes here! The movement within the song is inspiring and uplifting.
4 – Espresso (Toshi) Recorded at Toshi’s house with Reinhardt Melz (drums) and Victor Little (bass). The sounds of the coffee beans being scooped and ground followed by the pouring of the coffee and the spoon rattling in the cup set the rhythm for the opening of the song. The first appearance of Reinhardt on the album who sets a cool groove punctuated by Little’s punchy bass line. Toshi also trades percussive licks with Reinhardt during Little’s swift bass solo. Toshi pulls the piece back into a percussive melody like few can.
5 – Wave (Antonio Carlos Jobim) Toshi solos on this one. An eight note nod to The Champs’ Tequila in the middle of this Jobim classic; the man who practically invented bossa nova. The sound of flowing water provides the backdrop. The song fades out to Smoke on the Water. From Jobim to the Champs to Deep Purple! What a ride.
6 – Pipeline (Bob Spickard and Brian Carmen) Ryan Stabach (drums) and Toshi (guitar and bass). Pipeline become a bit of a surf rock classic. The tune has been covered by Lawrence Welk, The Ventures, Agent Orange, Dick Dale, Anthrax, Bad Manners, and Johnny Thunders. Toshi roars through the song with the same speed as Dick Dale but stills colors the piece in his own unique sound. It is the most fun track on the CD. Not my favorite track, but the most fun.
7 – Difficult Flower (Toshi) with Damian and Reinhardt as the coolest rhythm section you would ever hope to find. While the rhythm section keeps the solid backing, the front work on Toshi’s guitar is complex but alternating between grace and fire; legato then staccato.
8 – Gentle Rain (Luiz Banfa) Toshi plays it all: guitar, bass, shaker, cajon and frying pan. Banfa’s classic has found fresh breath under Toshi’s playing. The original had honestly become a bit dated and sounded like a 60’s movie soundtrack. Oh, wait…it was a 60’s movie soundtrack! Toshi brings it right to the present and gives it his own heart and touch.
9 – Song for Fighter (Toshi) solo guitar. Shortly after the March 11, 2011 disaster in Northern Japan. His dedication is to “everyone who follow a thorny path.” This is my favorite track of the album. It is not a cheer or an encouragement but a consolation. There are moments of utter heartbreak followed by moments of hope. The song fades on a sad but optimistic note.
10 – Bitter Smile (Toshi, Lyrics by Tracey Harris) Tracey Harris is the vocalist with Farnell Newton on Flugelhorn. Dave Captein on bass, Al Martin on percussion, and Toshi on guitars. Tracey’s vocals have a Basia quality. Nice horn playing by Farnell. Toshi’s guitar is as quick and fleeting as a bitter smiles. The vocal harmonies are rich against Toshi’s aggressive guitar. This is a surprisingly addictive song.
11 – Tu Lo Sbias (Toshi) Jon Hughes on bass with Israel Annoh on congas and bongos. Israel Annoh is the great drummer from Ghana. Jon Hughes provides an even and melodic bass. Jon is a subtle player and a gentleman. Annoh and Hughes allow a lot of room for Toshi to explore beautifully. Such rich melody and warmth.
12 – When You Passed By / Sunset Beach (Toshi). This reprsie is with acoustic guitar instead of the slide. The difference between the opening version and this closing version is the difference between attraction and attainment. It is no longer the wild speculation but satisfying realization with all the moments that have gone between. It is almost a remembrance of that first sight, looking back to the first attraction after years of life together.
This is a fulfilling album.