Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
Ledward Kaapana & Mike Kaawa: “Force of Nature” (no label)
Recorded primarily at a show at Seattle’s Triple Door in April 2007 (with additional touches of material from a private gig around the same time), this is one of those “snapshot in time” albums, capturing a couple of Hawai`i's top guitarists in fine form; their interactions with each other, as well as the enthusiastic audience, are part of what makes this album a joy to listen to. While Kaapana is unquestionably the superstar “name” in this duo, Kaawa has been steadily pursuing his music and honing his craft before audiences and alongside his peers for many years now, and is considered a master of the 12-string guitar. Both of them shine here as individual players as well as collectively, on standards such as “Koke`e,” “E Ku`u Morning Dew” and “`Opihi Moemoe,” and Kaapana also pulls out his `ukulele for a couple of numbers.
Following on the heels of their previous project, assembling a panel to identify the 50 greatest albums of Hawai`i (which resulted in two compact discs, a coffee-table book, and a lot of heated discussion), Honolulu Magazine recently assembled a similar list, focusing on specific songs rather than full albums. Since the emphasis was on the compositions rather than the performances, it was undoubtedly much easier for the folks at Mountain Apple to tap into their huge archive of licensed material to assemble an eleven-song (I have to ask: why only eleven?) representative sampler to go along with the article. It must have been an interesting debate in their offices, deciding whose version to use in some of these cases, and they did an honorable job with a tough task, blending classic and modern versions, and even getting an instrumental into the mix. Songs include “Puamana, “ “Aloha `Oe,” “Nightbird,” “My Little Grass Shack,” “Ku`u Home O Kahalu`u” and “Sweet Leilani,” with performances by top artists like Amy Hānaiali`i, Hapa, Emma Veary, Bing Crosby, Palani Vaughan, and the ubiquitous Brothers Cazimero (twice).
This is an interesting musical experiment. Two Island artists, slack key guitarist Stephen Inglis and pianist Shawn Livingston Moseley, seem to start with the structure of slack key songs, but have some fun expanding on them sonically by incorporating the piano into the songs. Not as simple backup accompaniment to the guitar, mind you, but as a full musical and compositional partner – something you don’t hear anyone else doing these days. Sure, piano fits beautifully into Hawaiian music and has for decades, but usually as just another instrument in the band. S and S consider the keyboard part to be equal in value to the guitar, breaking new ground in the process. The nine all-instrumental tunes, which sometimes move away from a traditional feel into more of a “new age” vibe, are all original compositions by either one or both of the team, or written by or with their special guest, Slack Key Lady Cindy Combs, who plays guitar with them on two tracks and is featured on solo `ukulele on another. (Inglis, Moseley & Combs appeared at Seattle’s Town Hall on Friday, May 2.)
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