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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews

January 2006

Here (in alphabetical order) are the five albums nominated for this year’s Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album; the awards will be presented on February 8, 2006. It’s clear that last year’s win (the first time this category was presented) by a slack key guitar compilation had an effect on the nominees this time around – four out of the five discs feature slack key.

Kapono Beamer: “Slack Key Dreams of the Ponomoe” (OnoPak)

This album marks more of a return to Beamer’s Hawaiian roots than previous discs, many of which featured his original compositions in a sweet, smooth jazz vein. This is a gentle album, appropriate to its title (Beamer describes “Ponomoe” as a “righteous dream state”), with hauntingly beautiful selections, both original and traditional. His late grandmother is featured on a name chant (one that his brother Keola also does on his recent collaboration with Native American flute player R. Carlos Nakai), and he is accompanied throughout the album by a sensitive rhythm section of drummer Noel Okimoto, and Dean Taba on bass, two players who are getting a lot of steady work in the Hawaiian recording industry these days. Slack key is definitely a part of Beamer’s guitar playing, but this is not a “pure” kī hō`alu album, certainly not like some of the other nominees; but is a great contribution to Hawaiian music, from a member of one of the genre’s most revered families.

Raiatea Helm: “Sweet & Lovely” ( Raiatea Helm)

Reviewed in these pages in January 2005, I hope you’ll allow me to quote from myself. At that time, I described this, her second release, as “a nearly flawless album … never lingering too long on one style, never allowing listeners to get bored. This is one of those albums you’ll enjoy playing over and over.” Helm has already proven herself to be one of the brightest stars of the upcoming generation of Hawaiian musicians. She has a knockout voice and a winning presentation, and has been compared favorably to such luminaries as Auntie Genoa Keawe (with whom she duets on the recording.) There are great performers throughout the album, tackling songs that her musician father chose for her repertoire, and her pairing with Keali`i Reichel on a jazzy arrangement of “Haole Hula” is inspiring and unforgettable.

Ledward Ka`apana: “Kīhō`alu: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar” (Rhythm & Roots)

An accomplished master of the guitar and one of the recognized leaders in slack key, this is an album of straight-ahead instrumentals, done in a very pure style, but with Led’s brightness and bounce throughout. Familiar tunes, such as “Opihi Moe Moe,” “Living on the Easy” and “He Aloha No `O Honolulu” are joined by five of his own compositions, one song written by his twin brother, Nedward, and even two pop numbers where Ledward puts the guitar into a supporting role, and features `ukulele instead (which he also plays on other selections.) Producer Milton Lau, who has been a major player in presenting slack key shows throughout the Islands and on the Mainland, adds unobtrusive touches on bass and keyboards throughout, along with some bass from Chris Lau, who engineered the recording.

Sonny Lim: “Slack Key Guitar – The Artistry Of Sonny Lim” (Palm)

Palm Records is the Hawai`i Island label that took the Grammy last year with a compilation of talented players, and they are back with a strong album starring one of those players – Sonny Lim, a member of the long-respected Lim Family from the Kamuela area. It’s hard to believe that this is the first solo album from this multiple-Hōkū Award winner, who has appeared with virtually evey name act in Island music, but it gets top-notch treatment from producer Charles Michael Brotman ( ex-Mercer Island boy, who has been playing, teaching, recording and producing guitar in Hawai`i for several decades.) The majority of the instrumentals here are Lim’s compositions (either written solo or with Brotman), along with a couple by his mentor, Fred Punahoa. Andy Iona’s classic “How D’ya Do” makes an appearance, and there is a three-song medley about the Kohala region, where Lim was born and raised (and where Palm Records and Lava Tracks Recording Studio are based.)

Various Artists: “Masters Of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Volume 1” (Daniel Ho Creations); Producers: Daniel Ho, Paul Konwiser & Wayne Wong

I noted the producer credits on this album because, as was the case last year, if this compilation album wins, the Grammy award is given to the producers, not the artists. (This led to some semantic confusion last year as, according to Recording Academy rules, the performers on the compilation can not call themselves “Grammy winners,” but they can say that they were featured “on the Grammy winning album.”) Culled from live recordings at the Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Concert Series at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui, we hear instrumentals and vocal selections from Ledward Ka`apana, George Kahumoku, Jr., Cyril Pahinui, Ozzie Kotani, Keoki Kahumoku, Daniel Ho, and a bonus track from “Da `Ukulele Boys.” Most of these artists are folks you’d recognize if you have been following slack key for some time, with the exception of producer/performer Ho, who has taken his past as a contemporary jazz guitarist (he led the band Kilauea) and put it into more Hawaiian-style guitar and `ukulele playing in recent years.


Ledward Ka`apana is performing in concert at the Rialto Theatre in Tacoma ( 253-591-5894 or 800-291-7593), on Friday, January 13; he is also leading a slack key workshop the next day at the Emerald Queen Casino in Fife (253-475-8381.)

March 31 is the date for the next slack key masters concert tour (presented by KBCS) to pass through Seattle, with a stop at Town Hall; featured on the tour this year will be Dennis Kamakahi, Cyril Pahinui and George Kahumoku, Jr. Check KBCS’ website ( www.kbcs.fm) for ticket details.

Originally scheduled for February, Patrick Landeza is now planning to bring his Hawaiian Music Institute workshops back to Seattle the same weekend as the Town Hall show. Joining Landeza for two days of slack key workshops, April 1 and 2, will be Cyril Pahinui, Dennis Kamakahi, and son David Kamakahi (who will teach `ukulele classes.) More information will be available soon.

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