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Zero Cool by SHARP THREE

The new release by Goh Kurosawa and his trio.

SHARP THREE is the trio comprised of guitarist Goh Kurosawa (guitars), his brother and co-founder Kai Kurosawa (basses) and Chuck van Haecke (drums and percussion). Goh has released three previous solo albums—the latest being 2013’s “Energy”—while SHARP THREE has released one previous self-titled album.

While Goh’s solo releases have been magnificent essays in expanding musical influences and interests, the collective efforts of SHARP THREE have, on this album, crossed those borders without a passport; you can't tell where they are coming from or going to.

As has been often stated, Goh continues to transcend genres and styles. His music and that of SHARP THREE can truly be called—not World Music—but Global Music. The same can be said of Kai Kurosawa and his writing. World Music is music from various parts of the world, referring to the collective of African, Brazilian, Arabic, Japanese Music and more. The music of SHARP THREE is a sonic offering from all those influences to the world.

However, at the heart of SHARP THREE is the precision, technicality, emotions and traditions of Japan. Goh has been called a “Musical Wakonyosai,” meaning one who retains the heart and spirit of Japan while discovering the world. An interesting linguistic note is the inclusion of “Wa” in the phrase; “Wa” meaning “unity.” For Goh and SHARP THREE, unity is the essence of music and life—unity of purpose and unity of heart.

The album opens with a Kai Kurosawa composition entitled “Away.” Kai starts it off with a delicate look homeward. Goh carries the rhythmic line as Kai’s bass introduces the melodic line. Kai’s bass instrument of choice is the 24-string Beartrax “Big Mama Bear” that Kai himself designed. It is best described as a Chapman Stick on steroids.

Goh and Kai exchange leads in a tug-of-war between them like the emotional gravitational pull exerted from both home and destination simultaneously; the pull of old-home and new-home. All the while, Chuck van Haecke creates a wafting of cymbals that separates the two guitars like the waves that separate Japan and America.

There is a great explosion of gear-work on “Boom!” The pedal effects, the rhythms and the bass lines forge what can only be called “techno-prog.” This song—a Goh composition—is the love child of King Crimson and the Chemical Brothers. In the midst of all that, Chuck finds the groove and anchors the movement of Kai’s thunderous bass-work.

Goh explains, "For the musical mathematicians, it is in 15/16 for three bars then a bar of 7/8. Kai plays that twice before the drums kick in."

The solo improvisational "explosion" at the end is all Kai. He is actually holding down the bass line at the same time. Goh says, "As far as I know, he is the only one alive who can play this way on a stringed instrument."

From the court of the Crimson King, we are led to the streets of Rio de Janeiro in another Goh song, “Danza Samba Ganva.” Goh picks up the flamenco guitar and—with Chuck and Kai—they create a combination of Brazilian samba and Central African rhythms. The result is a dance for the nations with the emotional attraction of all the souls in the world in liberating unity and celebration.

“Lullaby for a Content” is from Kai’s pen and his skill with the 6-string bass proves that Kai is not a gear-head who relies on technology but rather on technique, not machinery but musicianship. The piece is a bluesy rejoicing that, despite the title, is not relaxing but quickening and affirming. The song is like reading Tolkien before bed-time; the imagination is set to wander the loveliest paths of the mind.

The fifth track is Goh’s “Believe.” The introductory sitar-guitar riffs recall Steve Howe’s opening of “And You and I” by YES. In fact, the whole piece sounds like it belongs on “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” At 12:02, it is the longest track on the album but is still too short.

It was written shortly after the March 11 earthquake in Japan. Calls call it his "hope for for Big Happy Energy."

“Nina” follows quickly on the heels of “Believe.” It is fast-paced with an almost retro feel as if influenced by 1960s music—and that is not a bad thing! It is almost like Santana meets…well, Santana. It catches the listener from the first notes and holds on relentlessly until the very last note.

A Goh composition, “Nina” features a superb rhythmic backdrop created by Kai and Chuck that really swings. It was always obvious that Chuck van Haecke was an excellent drummer but he is truly stunning on this song.

“Purple Monk” (Kai Kurosawa, composer) shows Chuck again laying down a cool jazz groove that paves the way for a brilliant fusion track that is precise, propelling and poetic. Kai’s bass-line is intriguing and sets the hook deep. Although sounding like a mixed-meter piece, it is almost entirely in 9/8.

Goh returns ever-so-briefly to the electric guitar on Kai’s “Lovely Youth Square.” It is an introspective and melancholy stroll. Chuck’s brushes and Kai’s harmonic bass are perfect compliments to Goh’s touching bluesy guitar. A lovely andante ballad.

The final track is Goh’s “Chikara” meaning “strength.” Goh picks up the flamenco guitar for only the second time on the recording which may very well be his strength. There is an elegance in this strength. This is not the power of aggression; it is the power of discipline. The very distinctive discipline found in SHARP THREE is nowhere more evident that on this, the last piece of such a mesmerizing, charming and intriguing album.

The entire album is like the spinning of an elementary school globe with small fingers tracing the paths of places we want to visit and explore and taste. From America to Brazil to Africa, Spain, India and finally to Japan, SHARP THREE has proven to be the most magnificent of guides.

The album is set for release on Wednesday, October 2, 2013. And if you thought this was fun…now watch the DVD. The DVD contains four bonus tracks. Listen to the CD, then watch the DVD.

“Zero Cool” by SHARP THREE on Onigawara Records. Available at: http://sharpthree.bandcamp.com/

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Travis Rogers