Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
It’s the heat of a midsummer in the Pacific Northwest. The lack of a cooling trade wind means that my brain is bubbling away in its container. So, I’ve gotten this wacky idea to review some CDs that are not your typical Hawaiian fare, but with enough Island flavors to fit my purposes. Here goes…
The Rose Ensemble: “Nā Mele Hawai`i" (Rose Ensemble)
The Rose Ensemble is a classical vocal group based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota. By their own definition, they focus on “vocal music that explores history, world cultures and various forms of spirituality.” They have put their voices to Hawaiian music on their eighth album, with a mix of hula chants, familiar himeni (hymn tunes), and songs by composers such as Charles E. King and Queen Lili`uokalani.
This group has done their homework – and beyond. Not only are the vocal performances spot-on beautiful (and beautifully recorded), but the lyrics are enclosed, properly spelled and punctuated, and accurately annotated. A detailed history of music in the Hawaiian Islands runs onto seven pages of the CD booklet, and the information contained within is both scholarly and fascinating.
There are 29 selections on the album, ranging from solo chanting to various sized subgroups of the main eleven-voice ensemble. On some pieces, they are accompanied by ipu, ipuheke, `ukulele, guitar, piano, and/or string bass. The full page of credits and thanks makes mention of many notable experts who provided assistance, particularly kumu hula Dr. Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman. The group also spent research time on Kaua`i, the home island of their prominent soprano soloist, Kim Sueoka (from the same family that owns the grocery store in Kōloa).
`Iolani grad Shimomoto, an attorney in Honolulu, was the top vocal winner at the first Hapa Haole Hula & Music Festival in 2003. Following that, he released an album, “Magic Beside The Sea” on Hula Records. Since then, his pursuit of music has led him to start his own label, Leo Hano Records, to release his newest disc.
Shimomoto sings with the smooth and warm skill of a voice that is appropriate for the material he’s chosen, mostly a blend of sweet ballads and jazz-club standards. Not all of the songs have an Island connection (“Let’s Fall in Love,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”), yet most of them do: “Beautiful Kanani,” “Lovely Hula Girl,” “I’ll Weave a Lei of Stars for You” and the album’s standout track, a stunningly-gorgeous rendition of “ Honolulu (I Fell in Love With).” He has also written lyrics to a tune by John Starr Alexander, titled “My Heart Belongs to You.”
Several top musicians contribute to the album as well, including his close friend Weldon Kekauoha, award-winning guitarist Jeff Peterson, and pianist Dan Del Negro (from the Honolulu Jazz Quartet). The album was also voted best in the “Contemporary Hawaiian Music Category” at this year’s Hawai`i Music Awards.
This is the fourth instrumental outing from this duo, featuring a peaceful blend of Peterson’s slack key-influenced guitar (and `ukulele) playing in collaboration with shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) master Lee. There are a handful of original compositions here, mostly inspired by the slopes of Maui’s famed volcano, where Peterson grew up (his father having been a paniolo at Haleakalā Ranch).
Much of the CD features the duo’s arrangements of familiar works, such as “Haole Hula,” “Maori Brown Eyes,” “Wahine `Ilikea,” “`Akaka Falls” and “Lahaina Luna.” As with their previous releases, this album will put you in a calm and comfortable space, without putting you to sleep (unless you want it to, of course). The music is sweet, the arrangements tasteful, the Hawaiian flavor is strong, and the sound is pristine. Fans of “new age” music should appreciate this disc as well; this is yet another of the great sounds that come to us from Hawai`i Nei.
Sep. 7: Live Aloha – a cultural festival on the Seattle Center grounds, celebrating Hawai`i. Music, hula, food and crafts – and if the event is successful, organizers hope to have it become part of the regular “Festal” calendar of cultural weekends at the Center.
Sep. 9: Martin Pahinui, Aaron Mahi & George Kuo at The Triple Door, downtown Seattle.
Sep. 13: Maunalua & Holunape at Pantages Theatre in Tacoma.
Oct. 2-5: Keoki Kahumoku, Herb Ohta, Jr. & Sonny Lim – workshops/concerts in Port Hadlock/Port Townsend.
Oct. 6: Keoki Kahumoku & Herb Ohta, Jr. at The Triple Door, downtown Seattle.
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