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Star-Bulletin Features


Friday, December 14, 2001


Gems, lumps of coal lurk in
isle holiday CDs


By John Berger
jberger@starbulletin.com

Each new Christmas brings local holiday music with it, and the range of choices this year is especially diverse. There are new albums by Na Leo and Bruce Hamada & Jim Howard, two compilations, and a bottom of the barrel anthology. The list also includes the soundtrack of a new local Christmas musical, an album by an island songwriter, and a slack-key Christmas album by Ozzie Kotani and Steve Sano.

Na Leo got a big jump on the start of the shopping season by releasing its second Christmas album, "Christmas Gift 2," back in October. Seven more albums have arrived since. Here's a look at the best and the rest.



CD

Review

"A Father-Daughter Christmas"

Rob and Corrie Westerman
Stardancer

Few locally written Christmas songs are memorable but this album by songwriter Rob Westerman and his daughter includes one such rarity, "Christmas is Here," recorded with an assist from musicians Nathan Aweau and Jerry Adamovicz. It has a great pop feel and is a great showcase for vocalist Corrie Westerman. Hawaii's pop music radio stations should be playing it.

The other songs here display Westerman's breadth and versatility as a songwriter in viewing the season from perspectives that range from poignant to spiritual to materialistic. The title song will certainly touch the heart of anyone with an adult daughter who is on her own.

"Santa We've Been Good" addresses the perennial topic of Christmas greed. Adventurous souls with a few extra dollars to spend on music this year will find the Westermans' album of interest, although it may be difficult to find.

www.stardancermusic.com


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet Christmas Is Here
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



CD

Review

"Christmas Gift 2"

Na Leo
NLP Music

Na Leo's first Christmas album won a Hoku Award 1999. This one is at least that good. It includes everything from politically correct secular songs to comic numbers to beautiful celebrations of Christ's birth.

Na Leo opens "Gift 2" with a fresh version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." An imaginative reworking of Kenny Loggins' "Celebrate Me Home" is also excellent. "Christmas in Your Eyes" is the strongest of several originals but two whimsical numbers, "The Happiest Time of the Year" and "Santa Island," have appeal as well.

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" lacks the charm and soul of Brenda Lee's original 1960 hit, but Na Leo's version of "Numbah One Day of Christmas" is a fine finale.

www.naleo.net


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet Christmas In Your Eyes
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



Review

"Christmas in the Islands"

Various artists
MGC

This shoddy anthology seems at best an attempt to squeeze a few sales out of largely forgettable material. It opens with an insipid local pop rehash of "Merry Christmas Darling" that fails to attain the romantic lushness of the Carpenters' hit. Little that follows is worth the cost of the album. Because the anonymous producer includes no information on who these people are, the significance of the songs, or if any of them are originals, this isn't even a decent introduction to the artists. Add obvious typos in printed materials and this is clearly an "any old thing for Christmas" release.

Credit Nueva Vida with two nice songs anyway. George Street joins them for a satisfying reworking of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and vocalist Mark Bajet sits in with the band on "Christmas Song." Paka Smith's beautiful rendition of "O Holy Night" commemorates Jesus's birth.


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet The Christmas Song - Mark Bajet and Nueva Vida
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



CD

Review

"Have A Maui Christmas"

Various artists
No label

Veteran island recording artists Sam Ahia and Ron Kuala'au are the principals on this collection of Christmas standards by Maui residents. Including some information of the artists would give this musical Christmas card a more personal feeling since some of the performers may not be known elsewhere, but Ahia's acoustic arrangements work well throughout.

Maurice Bega's rendition of "The Christmas Song," Lukela Keala's "Silent Night," and an a capella arrangement of 'It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" by Conrad and Sam Ahia, are three highlights. All in all this is worth hearing.


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet The Christmas Song - Maurice Bega and Ron Kuala'au
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



CD

Review

"Old Hawaiian Christmas"

Various artists
SeaWest Records

Here's an excellent Christmas compilation from the studios of Big Island record producer Rick Asher Keefer. The songs range from R. Alex Anderson's "Mele Kalikimaka " to Willie Nelson's poignant "Pretty Paper," with some obscurities and new originals as well. The artists are a cross-section of contemporary local talent and include both established artists and young hopefuls. Brief artist bios introduce them all to a large audience.

Ken Emerson and Jordyn Pung share a smooth and swinging update of "Walking in A Winter Wonderland" that is perfect but for the lame synthetic string section. Almost every other selection adds value, diversity and color to the party. Lindsey Erin Trinidad's thin and insubstantial attempt at "Merry Christmas Darling" is the only dud.

www.seaweststudios.com


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet Walking In A Winter Wonderland
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



Review

"Santa Claus Lives In Hawaii (The Musical)"

Various artists
Rhyme Writer Productions

Veteran lyricist Art Freedman teamed up with composer Roslyn Catracchia to create a full-scale local Christmas musical, "Santa Claus Lives in Hawaii." (see feature story in Star Weekend, page 4). This album contains the songs from the project. Catracchia has been cranking out similar material to order for playwright Lisa Matsumoto for years and her musical approach here is similar in style and her heavy use of synth-tracks while also offering diversity in style and tempo.

Freedman is an imaginative writer whose Christmas tale include love songs, comic numbers, songs about greed, songs about giving, and two that apparently tie into a subplot about robbing a shopping mall. The producers provide no information on the story so it seems this limited-edition album is intended primarily as a theater souvenir. Kids who've seen the show will quite likely want a copy.


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet Give Me A Smile
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



Review

"Shades of Christmas"

Bruce Hamada & Jim Howard
Imanaka, Kudo & Fujimoto

Jazz fans need look no further for new Christmas music than this superb album by Bruce Hamada and Jim Howard. It's the duo's second release this year and it's as good as the first. This time they're working with all-star guests Gabe Baltazar (sax), Jess Gopen (drums) and Dick "Slyde" Hyde (euphonium). The guests add texture to the arrangements but Hamada (vocals/acoustic bass) and Howard (acoustic piano/electric piano) are the focal point throughout.

Hamada again distinguishes himself as a vocalist on most selections but the most impressive tracks from a purist's perspective are the ones where he and Howard stretch out as musicians and rework familiar melodies into fresh musical tapestries. Their interpretations of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" and "We Three Kings" will play will as modern jazz year around.

brucehamada@hawaii.rr.com


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



CD

Review

"A Taro Patch Christmas"

Ozzie Kotani and Steve Sano
Daniel Ho Creations

Ozzie Kotani takes a break from his membership in George Winston's Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters ohana to record with one of his students, Steve Sano, for Daniel Ho's record label. Sano is no ordinary student however; he's director of choral music at Stanford and has co-authored a slack-key method book with Ho. In short, he's qualified, and he and Kotani explore some familiar musical territory in fresh style.

One always-fertile field of musical exploration is the interplay between the distinct sound of steel and nylon strings; Kotani and Sano both use both types. Another lies in the exchange of ideas and playing styles between traditional and modern ki ho'alu and the Western European-American classical guitar tradition. Ho, a keen student and booster of slack key and ukulele, sits in on a few numbers and adds a third instrumental perspective to the mix.

Students of slack-key will recognize the album title as being the name of one of the basic tunings. Anyone interested in learning about slack-key will find a wealth of valuable information in the liner notes. The imaginative instrumental interplay between Kotani and Sano (and occasional Ho) makes "Taro Patch Christmas" a great choice for casual listening and relaxation as well.

www.danielho.com


MP3 Audio Clips:
Bullet The Christmas Song
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info




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