Kotaro Oshio,
Starting Point
(Narada, 2002)

The self-penned liner notes to this young Japanese guitarist's solo album are a bit of a metaphysical giggle, but if you can get beyond such prose as...

"This song is like jumping into a favorite picture book and starting in on an adventure in a land where everyone is free to leap about and rise to the challenge of endless possibilities. My story has also just begun."

...you're going to find some amazing guitar playing. (And maybe it loses something in the translation.) Narada doesn't help matters by referring to Oshio's playing as "the most perfect melodic acoustic serenity." Only in a few cases can the tracks here be compared to the usual run of new-age boredom that's easier to meditate to than listen to. You'll hear things that remind you of Chet Atkins at his most contemplative, and some of the finest jazz guitarists you've heard, but there's mercifully little navel-gazing music to be found here. If that's the kind of musician Oshio was, B.B. King wouldn't have invited him to join him on stage at Montreux.

Oshio's a band in himself. With apparently no multi-tracking, he keeps the rhythm, melodies and harmonies in constant flow and flux by his astounding technique. Most of the 12 tracks here are composed by Oshio. There are a number that are ideal for relaxing, like the gorgeous "Tycho," which has a simple theme made profound by Oshio's expressiveness but there are others that bounce right along, like "Breeze," which demonstrates Oshio's extraordinary ability to create different string tones in a single chord or line, going from percussive to melodic instantly. It's a perfect example of the creation of an entire new palette of sound on a single instrument.

Oshio varies his styles as well. There are some lovely Brazilian stylings in "Twilight," some mild funkiness in "Blue Sky" (which also shows a superb use of harmonics), a deep, rhythmic groove in "Hard Rain," and the unexpected and eye-opening transition of the guitar into a zither in "The Third Man Theme," a delightful recreation of the Anton Karas original.

Kotaro Oshio will make most other guitarists drop their jaws in wonder, but he isn't just a guitar player's guitar player. He's bound to appeal as well to anyone who enjoys fine compositions well-played. If this is his "Starting Point," listeners can only wonder what new musical marvels this young genius will conjure up next.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 8 February 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.