Sunday at Paragon saw a couple of those problems surface but, fortunately, not all of the above.
From the opening beat laid down by drummer and percussionist Reinhardt Melz, one had the feeling of "Ohhhh, yeahhh..." Jon Hughes' bass was jumping and Toshi Onizuka already was biting his lower lip, a sure sign of being in the groove. But before the song was at the midway point, it became clear that Reinhardt was having difficulty hearing Toshi's guitar.
What was interesting was how Reinhardt compensated for the acoustical problem without stopping the music altogether before the song ended. Being the musical perfectionist that he is, Reinhardt was not going to simply struggle through the song but instead picked up Toshi's beat visually. He watched Toshi's foot as Toshi kept his own time with the up and down motion of his foot. The piece was undisturbed as Toshi kept wailing on his Spanish guitar. Toshi has learned in his experience wih flamenco that strict timing is everything and he does not fail in it.
Before they began the second piece, Una Carta de Amor (A Love Letter), the speakers were adjusted a bit and everything seemed fine until it became clear that the shifting had put Jon's ear right next to Reinhardt's crash cymbal. So, Reinhardt again compensated by only striking the bell (the centermost part) of the cymbal and not the surface, as is normal and louder.
The compensation worked for everyone and the piece concluded beautifully with Jon's eardrums intact.
From there, Toshi began the next piece with a most exquisite introduction. I confess, I had no idea where the song was going but was pleasantly surprised to find that the song being introduced was one of my favorite bossa nova pieces, Agua de Beber by Antonio Carlos Jobim. But this was not the typical arrangement for the song...not at all. Toshi's arranging of the song was an improvisation and it was a clear indicator of his skills as performer and composer.
Fortunately, it was recorded and is available on YouTube below. During the peice, Jon's string broke on his bass. He was able to compensate through the end by playing vertically instead of horizontally and, once again, the music triumphed.
When they returned, with Jon's bass again intact, they began the second set with When You Passed By from Toshi's second CD. Reinhardt was using doubled sticks for a cool groove that brought a big grin from Toshi. Jon added a popping bass line and the result was a very appreciative audience.
Following Blue Bossa, the trio launched into Hypocrisy which is one of Toshi's most lyrical and melodic compositions. During this performance, however, Reinhardt threw in a funky groove that actually made Toshi turn his head away in suppressed laughter. Reinhardt then turned the funk into his own melodic drumming and the coming together was dramatic and beautiful and haunting.
By this time, the great percussionist Bobby Torres had entered with his wife and took up a booth close to Reinhardt. When a great musician takes a seat in the audience, the performers always seem to take things up a notch...or two.
When that workout was finished, Toshi breathed out and said to Jon and Reinhardt, "Let's do something easier."
It is not to say that a master, even legendary, musician in the audience is a problem to be overcome but it is a test of how musicians respond. The Toshi Onizuka Trio responded well.
In the 6/8 time of Gentle Rain, Jon and Toshi were beautifully in sync with each other and they did climb up another notch or two. Jon laid down a very nice bass line and Toshi's melodic guitar was sweet. Toshi is a musician beloved by other musicians. He can play at almost any level of virtuosity and he is a cherished performer and composer.
During Gentle Rain, Bobby Torres was keeping time by slapping his thighs as he sat in his booth. His broad grin revealed his enjoyment.
Toshi was enjoying the rhythm so much that he gave up his guitar in favor of palmas during Reinhardt's solo. As Toshi never retrieved his guitar, the solo became an extended one until finally Reinhardt started counting them back with a heavily stated "One..two...THREE..." and Toshi was forced to snatch up his guitar again and continue. This was pure enjoyment for musicians and audience alike.
As the final song was under full swing, Bobby Torres and his wife got up from their booth and before leaving, Bobby looked Toshi in the eye and gave him a solid "thumbs up" with a broad smile and then he left the room.
The trio finished beautifully. A beautiful afternoon full of broken strings and butterflies and Toshi Onizuka never losing his ear for the sound he wanted to create.