Japanese, Reviews

Dinner for Two, Kotaro Oshio – You & Me (Review)

April 13, 2009 | | 8 Comments Share thison Facebook Dinner for Two, Kotaro Oshio – You & Me (Review)on Twitter

It’s April now, and in Japan the cherry blossoms should be in full bloom. Weather like this easily compliments the beautiful sound of Kotaro Oshio’s guitar work. For those who are unaware, Kotaro Oshio is one of Japan’s premiere acoustic guitarists. Famous for his unique use of techniques including finger picking, mute strumming, and tap harmonics, among others, Oshio quickly gained a following after a short indie stint in the late 90s. He recently released his latest solo work on March 11th–which we’ll no doubt be writing about in the near future. Last October, he tried something different by releasing a duet album featuring a number of Japanese musicians on various instruments from violins and pianos, to beat-boxing.

Read my review after the jump.

Having only heard of Kotaro Oshio’s work via his performance with B.B. King during a jam session at the Montreux Jazz Festival back in 2002, I hadn’t been given the pleasure of hearing his music until now. Needless to say, I was ill-prepared for how amazingly good it turned out be. I immediately found myself searching through YouTube videos, browsing the Sony Music Entertainment of Japan website and listening to every sample I could find. I even ended up browsing CDJapan for copies of his older works, which is very afforable now that the yen is roughly 100 to the dollar.  I was shocked to find so many people trying to cover his work on YouTube–and understandably so–as it’s actually quite difficult to perform some of it. It was at this point I realized that some of these duets were merely previous works of Oshio’s that were rearranged for multiple instruments.

The first track on the album is an arrangement of “Rushin‘” and features guitar with Char, a guitarist who has been prominent in Japan since the 1970s.  It’s pretty fast paced, and has some nifty solo work that goes on between the two as they trade off throughout the piece. This is followed by perhaps one of my favorite tracks on the album, “Here We Go!” featuring Bro.Hi from the Japanese hip hop act SOUL’d OUT. His beat box work fits really well with the melody, which I could only describe as pleasant. The song also features a break down section towards the later half which may seem a bit unexpected at first, but certainly adds a bit of creativity to mix. The track “君がくれた時間” has an orchestra accompaniment which is quite beautiful, notably the violins and harp work.

Big Blue Ocean” features a solo violin covering the melody, leaving the harmonics, rhythm, taps and slaps to Oshio. The violin is superbly played, and does its job well, but while this frees Oshio up to expand on the rhythm, I find myself enjoying his original version more than this arrangement. Perhaps it has more to do with the way the melody was originally written. The next track, “あの夏の白い雲“, is backed by a full jazz band, drummer and pianist. While I’m not as fond of the song itself, I noted that it was well recorded and mixed. With so many elements, it’d be easy for any one thing to stand out too much, however that isn’t the case here. “A Wonderful Day” is a guitar and piano duet. The instruments do an excellent job of trading off and as with “Here We Go!” there’s an excellent break down section about half-way through the song which gives both instrumentalists a wonderful opportunity to show off various techniques for each instrument.

Purple Highway” is one of Oshio’s more popular pieces and the arrangement included on this CD features an accordion, which is a strangely fitting choice. The song itself has a very old-world vibe. “HARD RAIN” features hand percussion which help to drive the piece, which could best be described as busy and slightly heavy. This is followed by another piece featuring a big band, titled “ブラックモンスター” or “Black Monster,” which contrary to the name, comes off less dark and brooding than the name would imply. While it might be a bit heavier than most of the other music on the album, it’s more of a classy jazz number than anything else.

The album closes out with another piece featuring Char on guitar, titled “With You.” In contrast to the tempo maintained through the first piece, “Rushin’,” “With You” is far more relaxed and can easily remind you of something written by Eric Clapton. It’s quite sweet and the perfect way to close out an album of duets.

The limited edition release of the CD comes with a DVD that features clips from Kotaro Oshio’s 2008 concert tour, as well as some bonus footage of a couple different performances of tracks from previous albums. While I’d say it’d be worth it to track down this limited edition release, it’s currently out of print and may not be stocked at your usual import retailer–though, the original album is still on sale at CD Japan and Play Asia.

So, do you find yourself as taken with his work as I am? I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks.

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