Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
This is definitely a “chicken skin” album, but for a mix of reasons. The songs are either tracks that were unfinished at the time of Pavao’s untimely passing at age 51, or ones that come from earlier releases, but have had new backing tracks added. In the case of several of the songs, beautiful duet vocals from Amy Hānaiali`i Gilliom and Raiatea Helm are featured; these are singers who did not have the opportunity to record with Pavao during his lifetime, but their voices are a sweet match. Steel guitarist Bobby Ingano is also prominently featured throughout, and new bass, piano and `ukulele parts have been added to the previously released material.
It is a little bit eerie to hear this album, not knowing whether or not Pavao would have envisioned such a set of songs, but one has to assume that producer Trav Duro, Jr., had the blessing of Pavao’s family to create this posthumous collection, and you can easily forget that aspect when you hear Dennis and Amy’s beautiful duets on “Ke Kali Nei Au” or “Hanalei Moon.” You will, however, be reminded what a loss to Hawaiian music it was when we lost Uncle Dennis a couple years ago. Anticipate another release in this series when “Aloha `Oe, vol. 2” is issued later this year.
Bill Tapia is an amazing talent, and a charming person to boot. Born on New Year’s Day 1908 in Honolulu, he bought his first `ukulele from Manuel Nunes for 75 cents; largely self-taught on `ukulele, banjo and guitar, he put the uke aside for most of his career playing and recording with dance bands, first in the Islands, then in California (where he has lived since 1946.) In the past few years, however, Tapia has gone back to his first instrument, been honored at all kinds of celebrations, is the subject of a documentary, and has begun recording and releasing his first albums under his own name.
“Duke of Uke” is his second release, and for most of the disc, he is joined by Byron Yasui on bass and Benny Chong on guitar. The material ranges from jazz standards like “In a Mellow Tone” and “All the Things You Are” to hapa-haole pieces such as “Little Grass Shack” and “Manuela Boy.” Special highlights include a live recording from 2004’s UKEtopia festival in Santa Monica, and three tracks recorded in 1936 on a wire-recording device by Byron Yasui’s father, Shigeo, at Honolulu’s Metronome Music Store on Hotel Street, where Tapia was working at the time.
In addition to his great playing, a highlight of Tapia’s live shows and interviews are his fascinating (and deeply detailed – his memory at age 97 is astounding) stories of the people he has met and played with over time; perhaps we’ll get a live recording from him soon, with some of these stories intact.
There is no way to know if the “French Iron Chef” Hiroyuki Sakai had much of anything to do with the creation of this album – the liner notes do not suggest that he had any input into the selection of the material, so it’s probably safe to assume that his name and image are tied to this compilation project for marketing reasons; Sakai vacations in Hawai`i often, and plans to open restaurants there soon. Having said that, this is still a fine compilation. I would recommend this to people who enjoy and purchase Hawaiian music, but whose tastes haven’t yet moved beyond the really big names of the scene.
These are excellent tracks from wonderful musicians who, for the most part, are not superstars, but are not unknowns either. We hear from Maunalua, `Ale`a, Raiatea Helm, Ku`uipo Kumukahi, Kawika Kahiapo, `Ike Pono, Kainani Kahaunaele, and Ned Ka`apana, among others. The liner notes won’t tell you much about the music or the performers, filled instead with Sakai’s bio and a recipe for tomato & eggplant terrine, but it’s a very enjoyable collection – evocative of the island’s flavors, and pleasing to listen to.
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