Island Mele

By John Berger,
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Friday, May 2, 1997

Younger Ohta shows
his own ukulele stylings

Ka Hanauma Hou Herb Ohta Jr. (Pa'ani Records)

HERB Ohta Jr. follows his participation in last year's "Ukulele Stylings" anthology with this full-length album. All but one of the songs are instrumentals; the exception, "Always Wanna Be With You," suggests he has vocalist ambitions, and he's as good as any local pop singer.

Producer Freddy Von Paraz expands the arrangements with guitar, bass and steel guitar, and Herb "Ohta-san" Ohta joins his son on "Sushi," but the focus is on the younger Ohta throughout. Lydia Ludin's liner notes provide biographical information and a sense of Ohta's place in island music.

Ohta's take on "Hi'ilawe" is a fresh perspective on a song usually associated with slack-key. A hot original, "G Minor Fleas," played with co-composer Bryan Tolentino, is another fresh idea. Fans and students of the ukulele will enjoy appraising Ohta's interpretations of more familiar melodies as well.

Live and Kickin BBShawn (Flying Solo Music)

BB Shawn's debut album, "Finding My Way," presented him as a disciple of Henry Kapono's reggae-beat sound; it didn't capture the virtuosity and unpretentious personal style that made Shawn a popular act at the Pier Bar.

This album of local bar band favorites -- recorded live in a local bar -- comes closer, but there'd be a sharper focus on his talents if there were fewer musicians backing him.

At best, this random assortment of live tracks shows the breadth of his musical horizons: Hawaiian standards, rock, Top 40, country, reggae and jazz.

"Chubby E" Ernie Cruz Jr. appears as a celebrity guest. Two other members of the band also sing. Without song-by-song performance credits it's hard to tell who is doing what.

Consider this a fine souvenir of a night in a barroom.

Quiet Mind & Body Kelly Covington (Johnny Jazz Records)

MAUI vocalist Kelly Covington and her musical collaborator, Brian Cuomo, cut no corners in this beautiful collection of jazz standards. Almost every arrangement is synthesizer-free; the textures of acoustic bass, piano, drums and Hammond organ add to the appeal of these songs.

Covington scats with zest on "It Don't Mean a Thing" and sings beautifully throughout. Three originals co-written with Cuomo -- "Life Passes By," "What's Your Purpose?" and "Quiet Mind & Body" -- fit in nicely. "An Occasional Man" wasn't penned by Covington, but references to living easy on Maui help make it a musical signature for her.

The Hawaii recording industry seems capable of producing one jazz album per year. If this is it for 1997 we've got a good one.

Mele Hula Maui Serenaders (Ui'lani Productions)

GARY Aiko, Iwalani Kahalewai, Benny Kalama and Nina Keali'iwahamana are guest vocalists here, but the "Maui" Serenaders hail from Japan.

The local foursome's participation adds credibility to this collection of Hawaiian and hapa-haole standards, but Nobuo Mitsuhashi's arrangements reflect knowledge and sincere appreciation of the hapa-haole tradition.

"Pretty Red Hibiscus" proves a tongue-twister for the non-Hawaiian singers but they do well otherwise. Aaron Mahi wrote the liner notes for the collection.

John Berger, who has covered the local entertainment scene since 1972, writes reviews of recordings produced by Hawaii artists. See the Star-Bulletin's Home Zone section on Fridays for the latest reviews.

See Record Reviews for some of John Berger's past reviews.

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