First, the Paragon Restaurant is a great spot for live music. There is a small stage (perfect for a trio) against the west wall. The food is brilliant and the servers are music smart. By that I mean that so many places have a serving staff that is disruptive to the enjoyment of the live music. At the Paragon, the servers are very attentive but also sensitive to those who are truly listening. That is a big deal and the Paragon wins huge points for a savvy staff. But this is not a restaurant review.
The trio was in great form Sunday but that is no surprise. The surprise was who was in attendance to hear Toshi, Reinhardt and Jon; it was Goh Kurosawa and Israel Annoh.
Goh had been in Portland for a concert on the previous night in which he played in solo, duet and trio settings with Toshi and later with Geli Wuerzner, a fine violinist from Lynnwood, WA. Goh was scheduled to leave on Sunday night and had to leave directly from the Paragon to the airport to return to his home in L.A.
However, he stayed until the last possible minute and soaked in what Toshi, Reinhardt and Jon had to offer. By every indication, Goh was not disappointed. The photo above shows his reaction to the sublime tones we heard.
Below is a video of Toshi playing Tango de la Tormenta in Tokyo from 2010.
About 20 minutes after the performance began, in walked the great drummer and precussionist Israel Annoh. Israel is from Ghana, West Africa and has played at the BBC and the Ghana Broadcasting Orchestra before coming to the US. Drummer Reinhardt Melz refers to Israel as "my teacher." So, it was a doubled joy to see Goh and Israel watching and admiring what was going on. And with those five musicians within 20 feet of each other, it represented a collection of five of the sweetest human beings on the planet. It was a privilege to share the same air with them all.
Jon on his 5 string bass provided beautiful harmonies and the sweetness of his playing revealed the sweetness of character that is shared by the whole trio. He doesn't intrude but he doesn't underplay, either. He makes space and is given space by Toshi. And when it is time to break all chains and fly for the hills, all three of them can run with the best.
In one song, Toshi and Jon played as furiously as Reinhardt. When it was over, Israel cheerfully called out to Reinhardt, "I didn't see any space between those notes, man!" Reinhardt admitted to being nervous that Israel was there watching him. I didn't think a trunk full of anthrax could make Reinhardt nervous!
Toshi and Israel have played together, too. Below is an example of them playing together at the Paragon in 2008.
They are, each and every one, performers worth watching. Their musicianship is stellar and their character is genuine. It is one thing to witness excellent musical performances but it is quite another to watch open hearts playing with excellence and character.
Portland is blessed with many great musicians of all genres from jazz to funk to rock to soul. To see performers of such compassion and integrity is a blessing of another sort.
Sunday afternoon from 4 -7 pm at the Paragon is the only time to catch these three who so seamlessly combine skill and understanding.