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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews

Various Artists: “Pure Hawaiian `Elua” (Quiet Storm)

The first “Pure Hawaiian” volume, issued back in 2001, was one of the most successful Hawaiian music compilations in years, in terms of both Mainland and Island sales; no surprise – it was an excellent collection, with an eye-catching cover photo by Kim Taylor Reese, and came out on the heels of a series of “Pure Moods” and other “Pure …” compilations.

Will lightning strike the same place twice? Quiet Storm is banking on it with this second volume. They don’t have the national distribution network of Universal behind them this time, but the collection is equally strong. Featuring another Reese cover, this album emphasizes more recent recordings than the previous, with most of the 16 tracks issued in the 1990s and 2000s.

You cannot find fault with the selection of artists, from the biggest names (Gabby Pahinui, Mākaha Sons of Ni`ihau) to hot newer performers (Raiatea Helm, Pali, `Ale`a) to those with strong followings established over time (John Keawe, Robi Kahakalau, John Cruz, Darlene Ahuna.) There are well-known songs like “He Aloha Mele,” “`Ulili Ē” and “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua,” some less familiar gems, and even two new recordings: one from Keli`i Kaneali`i (ex-voice of HAPA), and Malani Bilyeu (of Kalapana) revisits his classic “Moloka`i Sweet Home.”

(On a personal note, I was pleased to see my friend Derrick Mālama credited as co-producer/compiler/sequencer on the project; Derrick was the original designer of Muzak’s Hawaiian program, which I now maintain. He’s with Hawai`i Public Radio these days.)

 

Jake Shimabukuro: “Dragon” (Hitchhike/Sony Japan )

Released in Japan a few months ago, the U.S. release date of the young `ukulele wizard’s fourth album (in slightly different form, as he is fond of doing) keeps getting moved forward; as of press time, the release is now scheduled for October 4. Although the compositions continue in the direction he’s been heading, with strong rock and jazz influences throughout (I always have to warn listeners: this is NOT a “Hawaiian music” album, even though Shimabukuro is from Hawai`i and plays `ukulele), he has referred to this disc as his “debut” album, because of the different way he went about recording it.

In the past, he was recording digitally to computer, where you can easily edit, tweak, sample and adjust material to make it perfect. This time, he went old-school by recording to analogue two-inch tape, meaning that the music was played live to tape, without the option of editing it later. He had to practice harder, and has accepted these performances as “snapshots in time.”

His trademark flourishes are evident throughout, including his dual-handed picking technique and lightning-quick strumming. (Shimabukuro advises other players to change their uke strings every two months, but I doubt there is anyone who wears out strings as quickly as he.) The compositions are all originals, though one is based on a classical guitar concerto, and he has a wide range of instrumentation throughout, including flute and organ, drumming by jazz player Noel Okimoto, and some stunningly beautiful string arrangements by Honolulu Pops conductor Matt Catingub.

 

Herb Ohta, Jr. & Daniel Ho: “`Ukuleles In Paradise ” (Daniel Ho Creations)

This is one of the first albums to showcase the new KoAloha six-stringed D-VI `ukulele, and Ho picked a wonderful partner to work with in Ohta (who plays a conventional four-stringed uke, also from KoAloha.) The two players come from different enough backgrounds that there are distinct stylistic variations, yet their love of melody links them. You can even study their separate techniques, as the recording isolates Ohta on the left channel, and Ho on the right.

Ohta is, of course, the son of acclaimed `ukulele virtuoso Ohta-San, and although he has certainly been influenced by his father’s jazz technique, Ohta-the-younger is more deeply rooted in the Hawaiian repertoire. Ho, on the other hand, has recorded in everything from kī hō`alu styles to smooth jazz, and his instrument treats the six strings as individuals, rather than pairing them up in courses, so he can utilize his slack-key playing skills.

The album is a gentle, nahenahe collection of eleven Hawaiian classics, such as “Pua Hone,” “ E Ku `u Morning Dew,” “Pua Lililehua,” “Kauanoeanuhea,” and “I’ll Remember You.” This album is perfect for helping you drift away to your own personal Island paradise. Excellent choice of material combined with flawless, tasteful playing; I hope this is the first of many volumes from these two, and it would be an album I’d recommend for fans of Hawaiian music, whether they already have hundreds of Island albums, or just a small collection.

 

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