Ozzie Kotani - Paka Ua
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Ozzie Kotani
Paka Ua (Raindrops)
Daniel Ho Creations (www.danielho.com)

Music often reflects its surroundings: the culture, the traditions, the landscape, the climate from which it emerges. This is so true when it comes to Hawaiian slack key guitar playing, especially when the guitarist is Ozzie Kotani. There are few exponents who are more respectful of the genre and who are able to translate, technically speaking, these ingredients so accurately and emotionally.

When talking to Kotani, it becomes apparent that this master regards himself more as a student of the style. An early teacher was the the late,great Sonny Chillingworth. He has also been influenced over the years by legendary players like Gabby Pahinui and Peter Moon. Each mentor has left his mark but perhaps the most fascinating thing about Kotani is that he has developed an approach that pays tribute to those who have gone before yet is distinctively his own: part traditional and part contemporary.

He breathes new life into the old chestnut, "Londonderry Air" (Danny Boy), with gentle slides and unexpected harmonies. It takes a moment, not to recognize the tune, but to understand how he has taken it to a new level. He turns to Nashville for a different take on a slack key standard: Chet Atkins arranged and performed Leonard Kwan's "Opihi Moemoe" with a country slant and here, Kotani brings that version back home. Reaching into the classic repertoire, he performs such pieces as "Ka Wai o Namolokama" and "He Hawaii Au" and adds a number of his own compositions that may one day join their ranks.

Although this is essentially a solo album, Kotani is joined by ukulele player Daniel Ho on three of the tracks. The sounds are pure and the atmosphere warm, making this a well thought out and thoroughly enjoyable album. For guitar enthusiasts, the various tunings are given in the notes.

There are a number of facets to his playing at which Kotani excels, such as his use of harmonics, especially on the title track and on his own "Napili Chimes," and his ever-present sense of harmony. Yet his relatively simple "Goin' Country," a gentle jog-along tune, conjures up the splendor the Oahu scenery. Ozzie Kotani is a musician who taps into the very source of his home and captures the magic of the islands. - Jamie O'Brien

Available from cdroots.com

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