Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
It has been a long time since we’ve gotten a new release from Hapa – so long, in fact, that the lineup of the band has changed dramatically. (In case you’ve isolated yourself from the Hawaiian music scene for a while, guitarist Barry Flanagan is now partnered with singer/songwriter/bassist Nathan Aweau. In addition, Charles Ka`upu continues to add his chanting ingredient to the mix.)
When Hapa does what it does best – bringing energy and richness to both classic and original Hawaiian compositions – they shine brightly, and the majority of this album is no exception. The album opens with “Haleakalā,” which has been juiced up with rocket fuel, and it works. Three new Hawaiian-language originals (“Lei Mānoa,” “Mō`ī `O Lili`u,” “I Ka La`i O Lāhainā”) are destined to become favorites, especially the third of these – don’t be surprised to find it adopted by the hula community before long.
Other highlights include linguistic excursions into Tahitian (“Tahiti Manahune,” “Hei Iti Vaihi”) and Tokelau (“Papa Ē”), as well as slack-key influences (“Slacking Off” takes the style on a bluesy ride, while “Paniolo `Ona Slack-Key” might be a theme song for upcountry Maui cowboys who spend a little too much time sampling the wares at Tedeschi Winery.) Fortunately, Aweau’s incredible bass playing also gets its moment in the spotlight, with the instrumental “Twinkletoes.” (I’d love to hear an entire jazz album in this style someday, Nathan, please?)
As much as I have respect for artists who do whatever they are inspired to do musically, without concern as to the marketability of their experiments, this duo’s taste for new flavorings make for the album’s weakest selections. Bob Marley’s powerful anthem of freedom, “Redemption Song,” falls a little flat, while the odd juxtaposition of slam poetry’s jazz rhythms with Hawaiian chant (“Kealoha Bebop”) is a clever concept, but a disruption to the album’s flow.
The packaging and artwork for this CD were also given prime attention. In today’s world of CD burning and internet file-sharing, Flanagan has mentioned that he feels more attention needs to be paid to this aspect of albums, so that people will feel a product is worth spending money to acquire. The multi-panel inner mural by Solomon Enos depicts the demi-god Māui , as he hauls the Hawaiian Islands , Tahiti and the Marquesas from the sea with his enchanted makau (fishhook), Mānaiakalani. Aweau’s comment on the packaging is that “if this was a book, you’d want it on your coffee table.” And if you’ve been waiting for more of Hapa’s musical mana, then you’ll want this disc in your player.
Not a pure “Hawaiian” album, but this CD will appeal to listeners who enjoy the gentle-breeze aspect of some slack-key guitar. Leong is originally from Hawai`i (grad from Punahou in 1995), but is now based in New York , where he is studying Law (after gaining a degree in Classical Guitar in California .)
Had this album been issued 15 years ago, the label “new age” would have been applied, but that moniker is too limiting for many “contemporary instrumental” artists, such as Leong. You can hear the influence of ki ho`alu training in these pieces, some more so than others, but Leong has a strongly individual voice. From his repertoire, he has chosen well for his debut release; the 13 original instrumentals blend together, making for a sweet listening experience.
Leong has studied with Barry Flanagan, Lisa Smith and Bobby Moderow, and played at a number of O`ahu hotels as a member of the band Ho`olapa. Today, in addition to law work and recording engineer gigs, he performs in New York as a soloist, in a duet setting, and with a contemporary Hawaiian group.
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