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New York-based guitarist Sakai spices bossa nova with '60s Japanese pop, blues, and folk on new CD


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Guitarist Sakai opts for a different take on a well-worn musical genre on his recently released album, Gradation—Bossa Nova No Kaze. Instead of offering a familiar take on Brazilian jazz, Sakai strings it with threads of '60s Japanese pop and folk. The result is a record that will rejuvenate jaded fans of bossa nova while reeling in casual listeners with its carefree, spicy hybrid of Latin American and Asian cultures.

Sakai's guitar style is light and breezy, suitable for the chill-out, easygoing nature of bossa nova. However, there is depth to his playing as well. For example, on “Gura to Baku," Sakai produces ripples of enchanting acoustic riffs. His Japanese lyrics actually make the song sound more exotic. Sakai can sing as well. Even though his words will not be understood by those who cannot translate Japanese, the emotional depth of his croon is keenly felt, especially on “Natsu No Omide."

What truly impresses about Sakai's skills with the guitar is its ability to conjure a mood. For example, on “Manhattan Rain," Sakai delivers a moody performance that illustrates a grey metropolis caught in a nighttime shower. Sakai's romantic ear is doing the navigating here as the sweet caress of his guitar is made for an after-dinner stroll.

Based in New York, Sakai was born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1966. After becoming a professional guitarist in Tokyo, Japan in 1989, Sakai started experimenting with Brazilian jazz, folk, rock, and the blues, the latter definitely making its presence known in the sizzling “Esperanza."

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