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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews

November 2005

Once again, Hawaiian record labels are tapping into their treasure-troves of classic material, and bringing long-unavailable material out of the vaults and onto the record store shelves.


Hawai`i Land Of Enchantment

The current president of the Mountain Apple Company, Jon de Mello, is the son of a man who created beautiful and lush symphonic arrangements of familiar Hawaiian songs. Jack de Mello recognized the beauty inherent in these melodies, and felt they could shine in rich orchestral, romantic instrumental settings. Originally released in 1961, Hawai`i Land Of Enchantment features a dozen selections with nary a steel guitar or `ukulele in sight. Albeit a little sparse on the credits (who is the “Kamokila” who wrote those original liner notes, anyway?), with no information on composers, or the cameos of singers and chanters, we are, however, treated to a charming story about the hula dancer whose hands grace the cover, and how Jack de Mello was inspired to feature her (she hails from a famous Island music family, too.) These recordings aren’t designed for hula dancing, but to take us back to a particular time in Hawaiian history, when the early years of statehood encouraged artists to expand beyond traditional presentations. The Hawaiian “musical renaissance” was still a few years away, and the hapa-haole/Hawai`i Calls style was prevalent, so these arrangements were unique for their time (and even had to be recorded off-island); now, they are a lovely snapshot of an evolutionary era in music.


“Hawai`i's Canary”

“Hawai`i's Canary” was the nickname Bell Records gave to their recent signing, 16-years-young singer Linda Dela Cruz, back in the late 1940s (ostensibly to compete against Lena “Hawai`i's Songbird” Machado.) After a nearly thirty-year recording career, during which she recorded and performed with some of the great names in Hawaiian music (Benny Kalama and Johnny Almeida amongst them), she chose to retire from performing in order to raise her children and to teach hula and music. Recognized by the Hawai`i Academy of Recording Arts with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2003 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, Dela Cruz is still around today to see HanaOla/Cord International’s wonderful 23-song retrospective release, spanning her career and releases on four labels. As the package was assembled by “Territorial Airwaves” host Harry B. Soria, Jr., it’s no surprise to see detailed, meticulous liner notes about her career, as well as each song.


“Songs To Remember Hana-Maui”

Another classic reissue of material from the same label is “Songs To Remember Hana-Maui,” featuring a dozen tracks made by Kumu Hula John Pi`ilani Watkins & his Heavenly Hawaiians in the mid-1950s for the 49 th State Hawai`i Record Company. Watkins passed away in 1983 at the age of 54, and is well-remembered for his mele hula compositions, such as “Waikaloa.” This disc is a valuable archive – hearing a composer’s own rendition of songs that have been adopted by other artists can be both entertaining and educational. The cleanup of these old 78-rpm recordings is meticulous, and includes some of the original release liner notes.


~~~ Music Tidbits ~~~

JAKE SHIMABUKURO will be making his first major national television appearance, when he performs on NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” Jake is scheduled to appear on the show on Tuesday, December 13. The `ukulele wizard (who played a number of sold-out concerts in the Puget Sound area in late September/early October) recently signed with the world’s largest talent agency, the William Morris Agency, and is celebrating the release of his fourth CD, “Dragon,” released in the U.S. on Oct. 4.

MATT CATINGUB, jazz musician/arranger/conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Pops, provided string arrangements on several tracks of Jake’s new album, but his most recent accomplishment is in the world of film. See if you can follow the trail…in November 2001, singer Rosemary Clooney performs in concert with the Pops (as well as Catingub’s big band)…she passes away in June of 2002, and the recording of her Honolulu concert is released on CD as “The Last Concert,” garnering her another Grammy nomination…her nephew is actor/filmmaker George Clooney, whose latest film (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” about CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow) is set in the 1950s…the film features several scenes of a small jazz group, supposedly performing songs of the time live on CBS Radio…the songs in the film (sung by Dianne Reeves) are arranged by and feature the sax playing of…you got it – Matt Catingub.

Good news for fans of Hawaiian music, especially of the late, great Israel Kamakawiwo`ole. His CD “Facing Future” (with the hit version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”), which was the first Hawaiian album to be certified by the RIAA as a Gold Record (for one million dollars in sales), has now achieved Platinum status (for one million copies sold.) His posthumous disc, “Alone in IZ World,” was certified Gold earlier this year.

Confusion reigns supreme in the somewhat insular world of Island radio. In recent revolving-door activity, Mahlon Moore, who developed the internet-based “Breeze of Hawai`i" format, which was then picked up for broadcast by KHUI-FM, left that station at the end of July amidst controversy over the station’s rejection of advertising from a bar with a largely gay clientele. Jacqueline “Honolulu Skylark” Rossetti then resigned to show solidarity with Moore . To fill Moore’s shift at the now-re-branded “Hui,” Tiny Tadani was recruited away from KUMU, who then hired Frank B. Shaner to handle their morning show (you may remember Shaner used to co-host mornings at KINE along with Brickwood Galuteria.) It’s enough to make your head spin, if not your dial. As for Moore , he held the rights to the “Breeze” name and concept, and continues to program it on the web at BreezeOfHawaii.com.


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