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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews


November 2006


New Releases

This month, we’ll take the phrase “Hawaiian album” very loosely, as we explore a few recent releases from the Islands that do not necessarily fit the traditional definition.

We start with “Return To Romance”(Mountain Apple), which is credited to the Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawai`i. Catingub is, of course, the conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Pops (many of whom are members of this ensemble); he is also a fine jazz musician and arranger in his own right – with Grammy recognition for the Pops recording accompanying the late Rosemary Clooney, as well as his work with singer Dianne Reeves on the soundtrack of George Clooney’s film, “Good Night, and Good Luck.” As his past history has shown, Catingub recognizes the art of a great song, and how to arrange, direct and perform them. This album gives him a chance to shine in all of those categories, and shine he does. Not only are the sixteen selections all arranged by him, but he plays piano and tenor sax throughout, as well as sharing his warm singing voice on several tracks.

And what choices of tracks for this album: some of the finest standards of the American popular song catalogue (“What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?,” “My Romance,” “The Very Thought Of You,” “As Time Goes By,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and many others) are joined by a couple of more recent numbers, including a few tunes co-written by Catingub and producer Allen Sviridoff (also a Grammy winner.) Other song highlights include the 1967 Neil McKay composition “ Honolulu (I Fell In Love With)” and a Hawaiian-flavored arrangement of a Bach work.

All of the above would be enough to make this a wonderful album, but I haven’t even mentioned the lineup of singers, which is likely to guarantee this album’s place among the best-sellers in Hawai`i this year. Would you believe… Island superstars such as Amy Hānaiali`i Gilliom (who has long shown a pop-singer’s sensibility throughout her career), Raiatea Helm, Nā Leo, Keali`i Reichel (who needs to turn his talents to this style more often, please!), the Brothers Cazimero, and Jimmy Borges (who Catingub credits as being a big influence and supporter of his own career.) It doesn’t stop there, however, as there are also performances from smooth jazz saxman Dave Koz, slack-key guitarist Jeff Peterson, and vocalists Patti Austin and Toni Tennille (who revisits her own ‘70s Captain & Tennille hit, “The Way That I Want To Touch You.”)

Next, new albums in a series that started earlier this year. The folks at Cord International/HanaOla Records have been responsible for some fantastic reissues of classic recordings originally released on the old 49th State label, and they’ve put out six CDs (to date; more are due) of material originally aimed at Japanese-Am eric ans of 1950s Hawai`i. In an era of post-World War II recovery, several groups recorded collections of classic Japanese melodies updated with big-band, Latin and boogie-woogie arrangements.

The four initial releases feature the vocals and instruments of the Club Nisei Orchestra (also known as the Tokyo Serenaders and the Japanese Modernaires Orchestra): “Sayonara Farewell Tokyo,” “Modern Songs Of Japan,” “Holiday In Japan” and “To Remember Japan,” while the two newest discs are all-instrumental performances by Tokyo’s All-Star Orchestra: “New Sounds Of Japan” and “Japan Calling” (still to come from this band: “Festival Time In Japan.”) While the details of the groups and these recordings are mostly absent from the liner notes, it is nice to see that the names of the Club Nisei performers were recalled. The late George Ching produced these albums for a segment of the Island population that was just getting back in touch with their roots, though many gaijin took an interest in these sounds as well (as they may well again today.)

Lastly, just in time for the holiday season, new Island Christmas albums are coming. While releases from Keali`i Reichel and (possibly) Hema Pa`a are still due, the Brothers Cazimero have just kicked out their third collection (or fourth, if you count a compilation of tracks from the first two) of wintertime tunes, “Caz Christmas”(Mountain Apple). As always, these guys put enough of a unique spin on these tunes to really make them their own. Familiar standards reimagined include “Sleigh Ride,” “Up On The Housetop” and “Carol Of The Bells,” along with ones of a more recent vintage, like “Jingle Bell Rock,” Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home,” and from the Peanuts TV special, “Christmas Time Is Here.” In addition to Island holiday songs such as “I Love Christmas (Aloha Kalikimaka)” and “The Merriest Hawaiian Christmas,” the boys contribute three originals to the mix.

One last comment, though: please forgive me, but can I just say I still have trouble wrapping my head around Hawaiian Christmas performances that talk about snow, icicles, frost and the like?


I’ve gotten a couple messages back from Hawai`i Island musicians, as to how the recent temblors affected their lives. From the folks at Palm Records, who are based in the Kohala region, Grammy-winning producer Charles Michael Brotman reports “we're fine. It was quite a day, with the aftershocks and all. Our house had lots of broken glass, but no damage otherwise, and surprisingly enough, the studio was in perfect condition.” Slack-key guitarist John Keawe, also living in the area, says “We are o.k. A lot of broken stuff with everything falling off the shelves but no one was hurt thankfully. Some older buildings fell in the area and a lot of landslides and boulders on the road.” Lastly, we hear this from Hilo resident LeAnn Paiva (Brittni’s mom): “Not too much damage, just a few tile cracks.  The other side of the island had it worst, but that quake was sure long and rolling.  Seemed like the house was walking.” Glad to hear all these folks reporting in unharmed.

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