By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts & Entertainment
Vinyl ain’t dead, nor is the art of collaboration.
A chance meeting and a visit to an LP mastering session at Capitol Records has led to a wholly unexpected joint project for a pair of Grammy-winning veterans of two very distinct musical styles.
Tak Matsumoto, one half of the legendary hard-rocking Japanese duo B’z, will team up with Daniel Ho, the modern master of Hawaiian-influenced world music, for a one-night-only concert Oct. 14 at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.
The event is a rare occasion to see two artists at the top of their genres in an intimate setting.
In nearly 30 years with B’z, Matsumoto has become part of the best-selling music act of all time in Japan, topping more than 100 million records sold worldwide. In addition to winning a Grammy in 2013 for “Take Your Pick,” his joint project with guitarist Larry Carlton, B’z became the first Asian musicians to press their handprints into cement at the RockWalk in front of Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.
“We got together a few times, after we were introduced by a mutual friend,” Ho explained, remembering how Matsumoto seemed keenly interested in a CD Ho had given him, a copy of Ho’s Grammy-nominated ukulele album “Pōlani.”
“I guess maybe because he’s so used to rock music all the time, the ukulele style was somewhat of a departure for him,” Ho said.
Growing up in the Osaka area, Matsumoto was steeped in the roots of American rock.
“I was influenced by Western music like rock and blues, but I was born and raised on an island of Japan,” he told The Rafu. “My music style was established there, so I believe my music and guitar playing sense is a kind of unique one.”
Matsumoto has collaborated with rock stars such as Steve Vai and shared stages with Aerosmith and others, and has worked with jazz musicians, so the allure of yet another American form must have had a potent appeal.
“I’m always kind of gentle in the way I make music, with soft tones and ukulele,” Ho said, “But you know, when I was a kid, like others, I imagined myself playing like Brian May [of Queen]or the Beatles.”
Ho, the winner of six Grammys in the Hawaiian and Regional Roots Music categories, said he put his efforts into writing a song that not only had a rock edge, but also sought to showcase Matsumoto’s sound.
“I wrote it with his guitar sound and voicing in mind,” Ho said. “It’s happy, uplifting, but still aggressive, and he liked it.”
The two agreed to commit the composition to record, but the ocean between them required a bit of a 21st-century technical approach. Ho recorded nearly all of the backing tracks in his Westwood studio, including the rhythms, piano, ukulele and guitars. He then sent his work to Matsumoto in Japan, where the infrastructure for his signature sound was established.
“His people really know his setup and his sound,” Ho said.
The result is “Soaring on Dreams,” a sweeping, majestic track that marries Ho’s crafting of unexpected yet comforting chord passages with the fierce but refined bite of Matsumoto’s high-voltage Les Paul electric guitar.
“He sings through his guitar,” Ho lauded. “Every sound, every pass and bend is very exact. The feedback and the power with which he plays, it’s all really thoughtful.”
So pleased with the result of their joint effort were the two, that they decided on more collaboration, and over the course of a year and a half or so, finished the album “Electric Island, Acoustic Sea,” released in February on the B’z own label, Vermillion Records in Japan. The U.S. release is through Daniel Ho Creations.
“By collaborating with different artists, music that comes those partnerships will be different, and the approach towards the songs will be different,” Matsumoto explained. “Daniel is such a talented artist and great as an individual, and I was inspired and stimulated by making music together. I learned a lot.”
Together, Ho and Matsumoto have played more than two dozen concerts together, notably at the famed Blue Note clubs in Tokyo, Nagoya and Honolulu. For his fans in Japan, it was a truly unique chance to see Matsumoto up close and relaxed, as opposed to the huge-production arena concerts that have become a hallmark of the B’z career.
Ho said the teams of production staff made performing a somewhat new experience for him, and most tasks – even tuning his instruments – were taken care of for him.
“I was spoiled for a few shows,” he admitted.
“Electric Island, Acoustic Sea” with Tak Matsumoto and Daniel Ho will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo. Tickets start at $39. For more information, visit www.JACCC.org. The video for “Soaring on Dreams” can been seen on You Tube.