Riley Lee, left, and Jeff Peterson combine their musical talents in a performance tonight at the Doris Duke at the Academy, Honolulu Academy of Arts. The duo can also be seen at Borders stores this weekend, and if you just can't get enough of them, pick up their new CD, "Haiku."

Musical medley

Styles merge gracefully

Dynamic duo

Featuring Riley Lee and Jeff Peterson

Where: The Doris Duke at the Academy, Honolulu Academy of Arts

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Tickets: $15

Call: 532-8700

Also: Free in-store appearances at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Borders Ward and 2 p.m. Sunday at Borders Waikele

While the history of ki ho'alu, or Hawaiian slack-key guitar, dates back to the early 1800s, and the shakuhachi, or Japanese flute, traces its origins to the ninth century, the disciplines may not have crossed paths until 1999, when Riley Lee and Jeff Peterson collaborated on a new musical venture.

Peterson, a Maui-bred minstrel fluent in the idioms of slack key, jazz and classical, was recommended to Lee four years ago as Lee searched for an accompanist for an upcoming Honolulu show. "Before we even met, he sent me a whole stack of music for this concert, and I just dove in there," recalls Peterson who, in turn, shared his music with Lee. "I started playing some ki ho'alu for him, and he just picked up his flute and started playing along and it was just this magical thing. We didn't even think about having a direction; it just kind of happened."

As Peterson explains, he picked up his craft as a child growing up in Makawao. "My father was a paniolo on Haleakala Ranch, and I learned guitar by watching a lot of paniolos play. They'd go on camping or fishing trips and have these big jam sessions. I'd hang out and watch them. There'd always be a free guitar on the side, and I'd pick it up and start playing."

Although he honed his craft early on by performing Joe Satriani covers in a high school rock combo, he chose to pursue his musical studies at the University of Southern California. Now a lecturer at the University of Hawaii, Peterson got reconnected with slack key during the mid-1990s. A former student of slack-key notable Ozzie Kotani, he has since become a regular guest of the Ki Ho'alu Festival, the world's premier slack key jam-down. "I'm really honored to be a part of it," Peterson says. "I've got to know and jam with some of my heroes."

AS WITH earlier releases, the duo's latest offering, "Haiku," merges their seemingly disparate styles with easy grace. "I like to combine each style together," Peterson explains. "I use certain things from classical technique and harmonies from jazz and tunings, phrasing and feel of Hawaiian music and let them all come together. I still study each genre's tradition separately. I think that's really important and to be able to play something very traditional in each area so you know where each is coming from."

Though Lee now resides in Australia, he returns to his native Hawaii each year to perform. The day before their first show, Lee and Peterson recorded a demo made up of traditional Hawaiian songs and a handful of originals. After sending it out to several companies, Hula Records signed the duo to their label.

The layers of instruments found on "Haiku" will be replicated live with the assistance of Robert Herr, a former student of Lee's on shakuhachi, and Ernie Provencher on acoustic bass.

"Just growing up in Hawaii, it's like coming home," reveals Peterson on creating music through an unlikely partnership which could only have been formed in the Islands. "I lived on the mainland for a short time, and when you move away, you realize how unique Hawaii is. I have so many memories of growing up on the ranch with all the paniolos that I feel a strong connection to this music. It's part of my heritage. I like the simplicity and the resonance of the tunings because each one has a unique feeling, and that keeps things fresh and exciting."

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