Tak Matsumoto

Strings of My Soul

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Renowned as Asia's only Gibson signature artist and a Grammy-winning guitarist for and producer of the Japanese rock band B'z, Tak Matsumoto had only one prior U.S. solo release before the explosive rock instrumental date Strings of My Soul. The fact that Hana came out in 2003 meant that in 2012, he was essentially a fresh artist for jazz fusion and rock instrumental fans stateside -- and he makes a dynamic "first" impression working with a mix of top Japanese musicians and American contemporary jazz greats like Ricky Lawson, Larry Carlton (an elegant, lilting duet on the classic "Sukiyaki"), and guitarist and album co-producer Paul Brown. The overall soaring, melodic, and alternately blistering and restrained result compares favorably to some of Neal Schon's best solo work -- but with a distinct Eastern edge courtesy of the texturing in of the Chinese fiddle-like erhu played magnificently by Chen Min on the moody, hypnotic "Hana" and the power ballad "Koi-Uta," which features a soaring electric guitar-erhu duality. There are moments when the crackling rock energy simmers down to a vibe that would fit comfortably in the smooth jazz format, but even on those, Matsumoto's precision and intimacy (with the expectation of powerful explosions in the distance) are awe-inspiring. The set of mostly originals closes with infectious, atmosphere-laden takes on two long-beloved classics, "My Favorite Things" and "Romeo & Juliet," which includes a waltz-like interlude between the familiar heartbreaking melodies.

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