Gregg Porter's Music Reviews
Holunape: “Āhea? `Ānō!” (Roy Sakuma)
With their connection to the Pacific Northwest (Kekoa Kaluhiwa earned his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Washington), Holunape’s first album garnered a lot of attention in the region. Their newest release shows that the trio recognizes their responsibilities to both honor the past and to perpetuate the music for future generations. The album title itself (translated as “When? Now!”) makes reference to the disc’s opening medley – starting with Alvin Isaacs’ question to a sweetheart, asking when they can be together, “Āhea Nō Ho`i Lā?,” then answered with a “let’s do it” present-day composition, “`Ānō!,” by band member Kama Hopkins (who also happens to be Isaacs’ grand-nephew). In addition to other compositions by Hopkins and by band member Kanai`a Nakamura, there are classics by Muriel Flanders, Clarence Kinney, Kahauanu Lake and Alice Everett, newer songs, and a vocal showpiece originally recorded by The Manhattan Transfer.
Last December, this trio of acoustic guitarists from Hawai`i Island performed two nights at the (recently closed) Honolulu coffeehouse/performance venue/recording studio rRed Elephant, and taped the show for posterity; posterity taking the form of this new CD. The current incarnation of the group consists of Charles Michael Brotman (Palm Records label head, producer of the slack key collection which won the first “Hawaiian Album” Grammy Award, and former Mercer Island resident), Charlie Recaido (recording engineer extraordinare and founding member of the seventies Island band, Summer) and Rupert Tripp, Jr. (member of the eighties band, Nalu!). While their music may not satisfy the tastes of those who prefer a more “pure” Hawaiian sound, there is no questioning the credentials and talents of these guitarists as individuals, and they define the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” philosophy. The interplay of these instrumental musicians, on original compositions along with classics associated with folks like Cecilio & Kapono and Kalapana, makes for a very pleasurable listening experience, with a nice “you are there” vibe.
“Uncle Dave” Heaukulani is a respected musician, professor, teacher, writer and `ukulele builder in Hilo. After seeing the success of slack key guitar albums winning Grammy awards, he wondered about the possibility of adapting slack tunings to his preferred instrument. Someone told him there was “no such thing” as slack key `ukulele – which pushed him to take up the challenge. In 2007, he published a book on the topic, with lessons and songs, and has recently followed it up with a CD of performances on baritone `ukulele, using classic tunings such as Open G, Wahine D, Wahine G and F. (He chose baritone for this album as it gives him the bass notes commonly heard in kī ho`alu.) Two originals are mixed in with ten standards, including “He Aloha No `O Honolulu,” “Sassy” and “Opihi Moemoe.” Not only does the CD expand what can be done with this humble little instrument, it’s a nice, nahenahe collection; listeners can ignore the groundbreaking aspect of the release and just enjoy Uncle Dave’s performances in their own right.
Henry Kaleialoha Allen: “Mauna Kea – Hawaiian Steel Guitar” (Rainbow)
Duke Kaleolani Ching: “Hawaiian Steel, Volume 5” (Keala)
Steel guitar, when played “Hawaiian style,” is one of the most evocative sounds in Island music; that sweet, slippery twang. Two of the acclaimed masters of the instrument have just released discs on little labels, but fans of the sound will want to seek them out. Allen was a member of Martin Denny’s “exotica” band, as well as being steel guitarist for the old “Hawaii Calls” radio show orchestra. His jazz chops (also on electric guitar) add a certain flavor to this album of classics like “How D’ya Do,” “Moon of Manakoora,“ “Lepe `Ula`ula” and “`Akaka Falls.” While Allen’s disc is relatively soft and gentle, Ching’s style is a bit peppier and upbeat, and he’s joined by additional musicians on several tracks. Ching has worked with the likes of Don Ho and Gabby Pahinui, and was once named “Man of Steel” by the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association. In addition to his own take of Andy Iona’s “How D’ya Do,” other familiar tunes are heard throughout, such as “In a Little Hula Heaven,” “Hawaiian War Chant” and “My Sweet Sweeting.” (One amusing sidenote: Allen lives in Hawai`i, but recorded this album during a stopover in San Francisco earlier this year, while he was booked to perform on a cruise ship. Ching resides in Southern California, but traveled back to the Islands to record his CD. Perhaps an exchange program should be in the works?)
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