Jon Hughes, for example, never plays over the top but always plays understatedly and supportively. He hangs onto the rhythm and this is no small effort when playing in the same rhythm section as Reinhardt because Reinhardt will take the groove into places that no one expects and few can follow.
In fact, one bassist was heard to remark during a break "I need a cigarette! Playing with Reinhardt just messes with my head."
Toshi, however, thrives in this heady environment and pushes the compositions to places that few others will take them. Again, he combines pieces and even genres and creates a fascinating sonic synthesis that is not only intriquing but is also satisfying.
For example, Blue Bossa--the opening piece--crosses from bossa nova toblues to jazz to (almost) salsa, then back around again. Because of Toshi's flamenco training and influences, Jobim's Agua de Beber (Water to Drink) is played bossa nova with flamenco stabs. Meanwhile, Reinhardt provides all the percussion anyone can ask. The one-handed roll on the cowbell was fun stuff. And here is how you know they have found the groove: Toshi bites his lower lip, Jon's mouth flies open, and Reinhardt chews on his lip. Oral evidence notwithstanding, the sound was enough to reveal the groove. As the song was coming to a close, Toshi's guitar took on a haunting dissonance that even shut up the talkers at the bar. Astonished silence.
Luis Banfa's Gentle Rain has become a stand-by but it took on a different emotion and tone on this particular Sunday. The funky bossa nova had Reinhardt grinning as Toshi worked his effects pedals to make it sound more like Ritchie Blackmore than Luis Banfa. Truth be told, as the song concluded with a nod and a wink to Smoke on the Water, it sounded more like Banfa and Blackmore had gotten into a Sao Paulo bar fight replete with profanities and shouts from the onlookers. In fact, a passerby on the sidewalk outside had stopped dead in his tracks and was staring, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at what was going on inside.
Girl from Ipanema opened with the most amazing introduction. I looked at my wife and said "I can't see how he is playing that!" I could not see what fingers were playing which strings. It was cool and contained false echoes without the use of effects. Once again, the tight-lipped smile let everyone know that all was as it should be. Then Reinhardt's interlude had Jon Hughes looking to the sky for some deliverance that never came. Toshi picked up from Reinhardt's relentlessly demanding rhythm playing bent strings to create the sense of longing that made the song so enthralling in the first place. Although the lyrics are never heard in Toshi's Trio instrumental, they do give the sense of what emotion is conveyed in the song.
"Tall and tan and young and lovely/The girl from Ipanema goes walking/ When she walks she's like a samba that
Swings so cool and sways so gentle/ That when she passes, each one she passes goes/ "a-a-ah!"
But each day when she/ Walks to the sea/ She looks straight ahead not at me/ The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes I smile, but she doesn't see/ She just doesn't see/ No she doesn't see..."
The story goes that then-17 year old Helo Pinheiro used to go to a bar everyday to buy cigarettes for her mother. She was a 5'8" brunette beauty that made all the men in the bar stop their conversations as she walked past. The bar is now a restaurant and next door is a boutique called Garota de Ipanema which is owned by now-64 year old Helo Pinheiro. Nicely full circle.
The melancholy and emotional Hyporcrisy followed with that to be followed by my personal favorite Light in Shade. With Toshi's permission, I recorded Light in Shade on my iPhone and have posted it on YouTube with the link below. This is the song that stays with me and one of the songs I want played at my funeral (along with John Lennon's In My Life). Listen to the music and you may understand.
Toshi has said that his influences were Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia. It is evident in his playing that he has learned the precision of Paco and the dynamics of DiMeola. Come see for yourself on Sundays at the Paragon with the Toshi Onizuka Trio. Brent the manager and Kate the server have created the perfect Sunday afternoon/evening spot for music. Nothing better.