Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 30, 2001

Members of Nueva Vida gather for a sound check at
the Ihilani. From left, Dayton Arima (bass), Robert
Shinoda (guitar), Phil Bennett (drums), Darryl
LeVance Carter (singer), Aron Nelson
(keyboards) and Michelle Abalaye
(guest singer).

New Life

Nueva Vida shifts
into high gear

Album lives up to name

By John Berger
Honolulu Star-Bulletin

ROBERT SHINODA RETURNED home from music school in 1980, took a look at the local music scene, and decided he didn't want to play Top 40 any more.

Shinoda had gotten into Top 40 music in intermediate school and it had seemed natural in the '60s to go from playing school dances to working full-time late-night club gigs. His final band, Glass Candle, became one of the top two such bands in the state and headlined one of Waikiki's biggest clubs for several years in the '70s. He could have gone for a hana hou but several years on the mainland had expanded his musical horizons.

Shinoda found other musicians who felt the same way. A group came together and the name, Nueva Vida (new life), was chosen to express their break with the past.

"In the beginning it was a 'kicks band' of guys getting together to play music that we liked to play and things that were challenging for us. There was no real thought of going out and making money. From there it just grew. I think our first gig was at the Sugar Mill and then at Kojack's," Shinoda said.

That was 21 years ago. Shinoda commemorated the start of Nueva Vida's third decade by releasing the group's first full-length album, simply titled "New Life." Most of the songs were written either by band members or friends. They'll be featured this weekend when Nueva Vida plays the 5th Annual Great Hawaiian Jazz BlowOut Sunday at 5 p.m.

"We were trying to include as many people as we could who have worked with us so it just kept expanding," Shinoda says of his decision to have part-time and former band members on some of the selections. He also wanted the collection to reflect the different genres that the group has explored over the years. And so Ira Nepus and Allen Won are heard along with Sina Foley and Aron Nelson. Shinoda's successful blending of the various talents and styles of music makes "New Life" one of the best and more interesting Hawaii jazz albums in recent memory.

"We did it little by little and so it was spread out over maybe four years," Shinoda explained. "It's almost like a photo album or a scrap book going. We have Al Leong with some tunes, and Merri McGarry and Carla Young as well as Sina. We've never put limits on ourselves so there were no limitations here either. We wanted to be true to our musical hearts, which individually are quite varied, with styles and feels from jazz to R&B to Afro-Cuban to acid jazz to ballads."

Shinoda and the others now get paid to play jazz but they're still paying the bills by playing almost everything else as well -- including some oldies and Top 40. Shinoda is also active as a studio musician and arranger for other groups. This time though the project is his own.
 | | |

New Life
Nueva Vida Island Groove Productions

Nueva Vida
lives up to its
name in new album

Five years in the making,
'New Life' does not disappoint

New Life

Nueva Vida (Island Groove Productions IGPD2005)

By Gary C. W. Chun
Honolulu Star-Bulletin

EVEN THOUGH THIS ALBUM was five years in the making, a collection of the occasional recording sessions whenever money for the studio time and availability of the band's numerous members worked in synch, "New Life" is a cohesive and accurate reflection of this two-decade-old band's longevity on the local music scene.

While the working band's number can shrink or grow, dependent on the profitability of the gigs they regularly play, most of the people who have passed through the ranks of Nueva Vida over the years have their moments on this CD. And while there are times when a couple of the songs could've benefited from more of a dynamic approach, whether this music is used as pleasant background sound or attentive listening, it works both ways.

The cover songs that feature veteran alto saxophonist David Choy, "Wild Flower" and "One Last Cry," are tailor-made for the "quiet storm" jazz radio format, perfect romantic mood music. Drummer Phil Bennett and guitarist and original member Robert Shinoda's arrangement of Kui Lee's classic "Days of My Youth," with a vocal by Darryl LeVance Carter, while reworked in an interesting fusion vein, lacks the needed sense of wistful nostalgia to be fully convincing.

The most radio-friendly song on the album, "Whatcha Gonna Do," has a spry hook of a chorus, with lead vocalist Sina Foley trading off lines with her fellow singers, and a fine arrangement by Shinoda (who should've cranked up the volume on his guitar solo!).

Carter keeps things in a cool groove with "Summer Dayze" and "Just That Way," a song that cleverly alternates between his understated, girl-you-did-me-wrong rap and singer Carla Young's heartbreak vocal.

Speaking of Young, I always thought her to be one of the most overlooked singers in the state. Possessed with a warm, soulful voice, there's a bit of that evident on keyboardist (and another original member) Allen Leong's "Ennui," done in a tricky, Latin-like tempo that also features Allen Won on soprano sax.

It only seems right that the band's two senior members, Leong and Shinoda, should provide the album's meatier material. Leong has a wry sense of humor that's evident on two of his songs that follow each other, the sonorous "Le Faux Saungeaux" (a play on the Brazilian songo rhythm, with fine solo turns by Leong, Bennett and guest trombonist Ira Nepus) and "Point of View," a truly happy song that borders on goofy giddiness.

Shinoda exudes a quiet, contemplative calm in his three instrumentals. "Full Circle" has a lush and languid sound, Won and Leong (on acoustic piano) make memories come alive on "Remembering You," and "Homecoming" brings the album to a fitting end, as the composition builds to a welcome sense of emotional release.

Here's hoping we don't have to wait another five years for the band's next offering.

Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet Full Circle
Bullet Watcha Gonna Do
Bullet Point of View
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info

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