Island Mele
John Berger

Saturday, July 2, 2005




Gypsy Pacific

Suppose four gypsy musicians came to Hawaii and played Hawaiian and hapa-haole music their way -- that's the premise of this concept album, and it works surprisingly well. Or, maybe not "surprisingly," because the cross-cultural "stretch" isn't as great as it may seem.

Hawaiians were probably as familiar with the violin during the late 19th century as they were with the guitar, and they were playing the acoustic string bass in its original Western context as the bottom instrument of a string quartet many years before they picked up the modern jazz-style "slapping" technique that anchors the rhythm section in cha-lang-alang groups today.

History aside, violinists in particular will enjoy the musicians' work. Folks with a more general interest in music will find the quartet's imaginative project a striking example of the many possibilities for innovation within mainstream Hawaiian music. The biggest difference here is that violin and guitar share the melodic duties instead of guitar and ukulele.

Gypsy Pacific's arrangements of "Sophisticated Hula" and "Hawaiian War Chant" are good benchmarks for comparing the quartet's "gypsy jazz" approach with traditional Hawaiian and hapa-haole music. "On A Little Street in Singapore" has been "local" by adoption since the Peter Moon Band recorded it in 1982. "Beyond the Sea" doesn't really fit the concept in terms of its origin, but the theme was a popular one in 20th century hapa-haole music.

Gypsy Pacific offers exciting listening for people looking for fresh ideas in Hawaiian music.


Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet "Sophisticated Hula"
Bullet "On A Little Street In Singapore"
Bullet "Hawaiian War Chant"
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



"More Authentic Island Songs"

Mahi Beamer

It seems that Mahi Beamer's second album for Capitol Records never got the attention, respect and sales accorded the first. There was a lot of excitement last fall when Hula successfully brokered the CD re-issue of "The Remarkable Voice of Hawaii's Mahi Beamer." It's now time to welcome back this collection of classic recordings from the same session.

Hula Records has always set high standards for recording and packaging Hawaiian music. This re-issue -- produced by Donald P. "Flip" McDiarmid III and with revised annotation by Mahi and Gaye Beamer -- is perfect in every way.

People who know Beamer only as the legendary "Uncle Mahi" will again be amazed as these recordings reaffirm his billing as "...Hawaii's most remarkable voice," and one of the great Hawaiian male falsetto singers of the 20th century.

As with his first album, Beamer featured the compositions of his grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer; the one exception is a chant, "Ka Ha'a La Puna," that had been performed by the family for many years. The album shares another important slice of Helen Desha Beamer's musical legacy. It includes "Halehuki," which she wrote about the family home across the Wailuku River from Hilo town, and "Pua Malihini," a wedding gift for her son-in-law, Charles Dahlberg.

With 12 pages of annotation, including song lyrics, translations and cultural information, this re-issue is a perfect introduction to Mahi Beamer and his music. Aside from the music itself, the most important reason to buy this re-issue is because it includes Mahi's new translations by of his grandmother's lyrics.

EMI Music Special Markets
1750 Vine Street
Hollywood, CA 90028

Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet "Mahai'ula"
Bullet "Pua Malihini"
Bullet "Ka'ahumanu"
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info



"Don't Stop The Feeling"

Aaron Aranita

There's a good reason that so much of the music on Aaron Aranita's new album has a retro sound reminiscent of the electronic "jazz fusion" sound popular here in the 1980s. You remember, electric bass and keyboards/synthesizers opposite drums, guitar, and some wind or reed instruments. The small print reveals that several selections date from 1987 and were released on an album he recorded for Wayne Sekiya's MGC label. Others were made in 1989 but never released. The remainder are of recent vintage, but mesh naturally with the older material.

The most interesting tracks are the contemporary recordings that feature Russian jazz legend Valery Ponomarev on trumpet. Ponomarev was hit on Honolulu's jazz scene when he came out for some gigs in 2004. Ponomarev's solos on "Jazzamba" and "Never Say Never" are fine mementos of his stay here and make the album of interest outside Hawaii.

Aranita produced the album, as well as played or "programed" several instruments in the various sessions. He proves especially astute in choosing the order in which each song is heard. The musical journey starts off on a promising note, spending a considerable amount of time revisiting the 1980s, and then soars to a cheerful conclusion.


Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet "Jazzamba"
Bullet "Kekaha"
Bullet "You Are A Dream"
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info

See the Columnists section for some past reviews.

John Berger, who has covered the local entertainment scene since 1972, writes reviews of recordings produced by Hawaii artists. See the Star-Bulletin's Today section on Fridays for the latest reviews. Contact John Berger at jberger@starbulletin.com.

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