T-Square’s EWI Legends

Those that do follow me know how much of a huge T-Square fan I am, and one of the signature sounds of the band comes from the EWI – Electronic Wind Instrument.  Manufactured by Akai, the EWI has been described by the gang from Video Games Live! as a ‘terminator flute’ and to be honest, it’s true.  It’s easy to dismiss the instrument because it sounds like a over-hyped synthesizer, but it packs power if you know how to play.  Given that T-Square had three sax / EWI players during their history, I decided to show my favorite live performances that  you can find on YouTube, so please check the videos out below and enjoy!

Takahiro Miyazaki was T-Square’s third saxman and EWI artist before band legend Takeshi Itoh returned.  Here he’s jamming to the amazing Knight’s Song, which would eventually become Masahiro Andoh’s “Moon over the Castle” for the Gran Tursimo game series.  Watch how the tempo of the band makes him almost explode!

Second is the insane Masato Honda.  Many fans consider him to be the best and most talented front-man of the group due to his amazing improvisations.  He’s a great artist but I still think Itoh-san is the best.  I don’t care how crazy his version of Truth is, but that’s Itoh’s song.  However, Honda-san’s got TONS of EWI hits to his name.  Samurai Metropolis, Door to Tomorrow, Little League Star, Crown & Roses and more.  However, for my money, his EWI hit would have to be Faces.

And lastly, Takeshi Itoh, the legend of T-Square, has that ONE song.  The song that put them on the map.  The song that made them an international sensation.  The song that no one forgot….TRUTH.  Seriously folks, ’nuff said.

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Heaven is Purple Tonight

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My father used to tell me that if there was one musician who was an underrated genius, it would be Prince.  Gifted in song, vision, fashion and musicianship, Prince was, and is, an icon in the truest sense.  He stood out in so many ways, and his music, especially in the 80’s, has a timelessness that continues to defy conventions.  And speaking of conventions, Prince himself was unconventional in every sense.  He challenged our notions of not only what was sexy, but about what it meant to be yourself.  He wasn’t afraid of criticism, and he certainly wasn’t afraid of the Music Industry either.   Hirohiko Araki, author of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, loves Prince so much that he models much of his work (from Unbreakable Diamond onward) on his face and fashions.  Like Bowie, Maurice White, and a whole host of others who have passed so suddenly this year, I felt like they’d never go, and yet here we are on a Thursday, shocked at work to find the man who churned the clouds to give us Purple Rain is gone.  There was still so much that I didn’t know or experience with this magician.  I’ve never listened to his newer material.  I missed out on his Super Bowl performance.  I still haven’t sat down to watch Purple Rain.  With doves crying in the downpour, it’s clear for us to see that Heaven is Purple tonight.

R.I.P. Maurice White (1941 – 2016)

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The mind and beat behind Earth, Wind and Fire has left us on 2/3/2016.  Some of the songs he helped create were not just mere pop hits, but inspirational anthems for a generation of people.  I never owned an EWF album but I was always on my toes when a song would pop up in the radio.  Fantasy, September, Shining Star and others were full of powerhouse brass, heart-pounding bass work and singing that literally touched the Gods.  Maurice White was a part of all of that and more.  He even helped produce an Anime soundtrack for Gatchaman’s 1994 OVA.  White and his band are a force of nature, and I hope his passing can be a way for us all to see that he didn’t leave this plane, but that he returned to the force that bore him many moons ago.  Remember the man, and definitely hit up his songs below.  Rest in Peace Maurice.  What you gave to us was truly a fantasy in the best sense.

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Returning to Eternity: RIP David Bowie (1947-2016)

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How many times have I at least heard one of David Bowie’s songs throughout the day on the radio?  From Let’s Dance on The Mix’s 80s at 8 to Space Oddity on a classic rock station, it never doubted me that the Bowie would end, but it did, and I’m at a loss for words.  I haven’t even seen any of his videos because I never needed to; his hits took me to so many places that the videos were secondary.  With Blackstar released just last Friday, I felt as though he knew his time was up and wanted not to fade into obscurity, but to shine his last beacon into our collective consciousness.  The Prince of the Universe has returned to Eternity.  Farewell David Bowie…I’ll never forget to wear red shoes when I dance the blues…

Naika Reviews T-Square’s “WINGS” (2012)

T-Square’s new effort is nothing short of uplifting.  If the album title “Wings” doesn’t at least give you the hint of that, then you deserve yourself a whack across the head.  Joyous, uplifting and fresh, T-Square’s “Wings” is one heck of an album.

Andoh’s Heroes is a great way to start the album up, and although I was looking for something along the lines of a no-holds barred EWI power ballad like Truth or Faces, it is what it is, and that’s fine with me.  There’s a great deal of dramatic power going on with Kawano’s Flight of the Phoenix, which is simply awesome, while the fast paced fusion from tracks like Flashpacker and Fast Break keep the album energetic.  However, it’s tracks like Sympathy and Natsu no Ashioto that give the album a bit more variety and depth.  Sympathy itself is a moving seven minute track full of emotion while Natsu no Ashioto is a summer time stroll in the park which features T.K. Itoh making pleasant melodies on the flute.  That’s right, the flute.  It’s been a while since he’s done that on an album, right?

In addition to all of that, what’s not to love about the rest of the album?  The summer festivities roll on with Sunshower, along with The Bird of Wonder, while Tell Your Story has a nice slice of funk to it thanks to the much improved bass thumping of Shingo Tanaka (I wonder if he’ll ever become a full fledged member, because he’s starting to grow on me).

And let’s not forget the upbeat theme track to Japan’s Sunday Scramble TV show, Cheer Up!  Fast, funky and full of flair, this track, along with Bandoh’s Little Big Life from “Nine Stories,” really showcases Satoshi’s knack for writing some funky and fresh sounds for the group.  If there’s any song in the album that you might want to hit up first once you crack open that jewel case, I’ll put my money on Cheer Up!

As T-Square nears its 35th anniversary, it’s nice to know that year after year the gang still finds a way to get the most out of themselves to create another great album.  Like “Natural” and even “Natsu no Wakusei,” the band paints a lush summer picture with each track while giving you enough variety in terms of sound that there should be little to complain about.  Dynamic, pleasant, moving and, ultimately, uplifting, T-Square accomplishes so much with “Wings” that by the end of it all, you’ll feel as if you were soaring across the sky.

Naika Reviews T-SQUARE’S LIVE “NATURAL” (1990)

If there was any band in Japan that illustrated that jazz fusion was a vibrant, edgy but prodigious genre, it would have to be T-Square for me.  Formed in 1978 as a university jazz group led by kick-ass guitarist Masahiro Andoh, T-Square is now a band that is currently closing in on its 35th year of existence (in 2013) and continues to have an album or two made, EVERY DAMN YEAR!  Last year’s Nine Stories was a homerun of an album that had all sorts of jazz fusion goodness, thanks to their two younger members, the effervescent Keizoh Kawano and the young gun drummer known as Satoshi Bandoh (both of whom have released solo albums recently to much fanfare).

Grateful as I am to the new stuff that’s being pumped out by the most recent lineup of the band, I’m using the time that I have here to talk about the T-Square lineup that I love THE MOST, along with one of my favorite performances ever captured on video from them, and that’s their live concert in Asahikawa: T-Square’s Live Natural ’90.

Featuring the artful Hirotaka Izumi on keyboards, the funky bass of Mitsuru Sutoh and the powerful drum work of Hiroyuki Noritake, along with Andoh-san and Mr. Takeshi Itoh himself, T-Square’s most famous lineup was in full force for this performance.  Marketed as a video and laserdisc, T-Square’s Live Natural was a performance for the ages, celebrating both the release of their 1990 album of the same name, along with the simple idea of what it means to be “Natural.”

Aside from the 90s fashion sensibilities, the one thing you will notice is that it’s an outdoor venue, with the lush landscape of Hokkaido vying hard for center stage.  Much of the song listing for the concert is fitting too, with nature-themed tracks such as White Mane, Daisy Field and Wind Song helping to fill the dots with the rest of the album’s hits like Control and Radio StarMorning Star from their 1989 album WAVE makes an appearance to rock the audience while the appropriate Duo allows Noritake and Sutoh to wow the crowd with the importance and skill required for a drummer and bassist to make a jazz fusion band go bump in the night.  And lastly, there’s no other way the band can end the night without performing their number one hit, Truth.

All in all, T-Square’s Live Natural was, and is, a complete performance showcasing the strengths of the band and the amount of musicianship it takes to create something more lasting than what you’d find in your basic Top 40.  With easy accessibility on YouTube, due in part to some generous T-Square fans overseas, anyone can access this awesome show with the touch of their fingertips.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with this type of music and the amount of class this band has, do your best to open your eyes, and most importantly your ears, to what T-Square can offer, and from what you’ll find and see, you will truly know what it means, at least in a musical sense, to be natural.

NOTE: All image scans courtesy of Fenikon at the Fenikon’s Jazz Blog.