Ahuna, Ho join forces


POSTED: Friday, August 21, 2009

'Aloha Pumehana'

Darlene Ahuna
(Daniel Ho Creations)

; Hoku Award-winning vocalist Darlene Ahuna, off the radar for several years, makes a welcome return with Grammy Award-winning record producer Daniel Ho as her new partner in music. She sings—as beautifully as always—and plays 12-string guitar; he plays ukulele, bass and piano. The result is a fine showcase for a talented singer, and a beautiful collection of Hawaiian music performed in contemporary style.

The album opens with the title track. Written by Amy Ku'uleialoha Stillman and Ho, it begins as a duet for voice and piano; Ahuna's guitar gradually makes itself heard as the song progresses. Ho uses traditional instrumentation on “;Hi'ilawe,”; one of several standards in the collection. “;Waiehu,”; sung in Hawaiian but with a cocktail lounge arrangement, is another standout.

Ahuna completes her award-worthy comeback album with information about the songs and cryptic notes about circumstances that produced it.

;» ”;Aloha Pumehana”;
;» ”;Hi‘ilawe”;
;» ”;Waiehu”;

'Ho'ola i ka Poli'

Kawaikapuokalani Hewett
(Daniel Ho Creations)

; Kumu hula Kawaikapuokalani Hewett and musician/record producer Daniel Ho return almost exactly a year after the release of their first project together, “;Honehone i ka Poli,”; with a second album that builds perfectly on the impeccably Hawaiian foundation of the first. Once again, Hewett did all the writing. In most songs, the lyrics are Hawaiian; in one he replaces the “;k”; sound used in standard Hawaiian with the “;t”; sound heard in some Hawaiian dialects (and also in Tahitian).

Hewett is again in fine form as the primary vocalist. His voice has the soulful, well-worn timbre one would expect from an artist of his stature. His daughter, Ula Hewett, sings harmonies and backing vocals; “;E Ku'u Ipo Ola'a Beauty”; is her showcase number this time. Ho backs them on slack-key guitar, piano, bass and ukulele.

Hewett's compositions express his love of God, his admiration for his father, and his experiences traveling across Hawaii and to other parts of the world. One song honors Emma DeFries, a cherished teacher. Another uses a Hawaiian legend to describe a situation that, in the composer's words, “;gets me fairly choked up”; even though he wrote it more than 25 years ago.

Hewett completes his latest Grammy Award-worthy album with extensive annotation that includes the lyrics, translations and cultural information.

;» ”;Lei Au I Ke Aloha O Ke Akua”;
;» ”;Hawai‘i Ku’u Home”;
;» ”;E Ku’u Ipo Ola‘a Beauty”;

'Friends & Family of Hawai'i'

Amy Hanaiali'i

; Give Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Matt Catingub and Allen Sviridoff credit. Duet albums have been popular in pop and country music for a while now, and they put a Hawaiian spin on it by pairing her with 14 male soloists and two male vocal groups.

The most satisfying selections are the straight Hawaiian and hapa-haole songs. “;E Ku'u Lei,”; featuring Palani Vaughan, opens the album and sets the mood perfectly. Hawaiian and hapa-haole duets featuring Nathan Aweau, Darren Benitez, Robert Cazimero, Kawika Kahiapo, Dennis Kamakahi, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole, Sean Na'auao, Keali'i Reichel and the Martin Pahinui Trio also fit nicely.

No one would ever mistake “;Have I Told You Lately,”; her duet with Willie Nelson, as a country song, but Nelson demonstrated his appeal as a pop singer several decades ago and does so again here. “;Shower the People,”; featuring her brother, Eric Gilliom, is also nicely done.

Other pop remakes are less impressive. A Jawaiian remake of “;Everybody Plays the Fool”; falls short of the Main Ingredient's 1972 hit on all counts, and a languorous reworking of “;What Is Life”; lacks the searing emotional intensity George Harrison brought to the original in 1971.

One surprising omission is the lack of a duet featuring the multitalented Catingub on sax, piano and vocals. Also missing are English translations of the Hawaiian songs to make the album more accessible for people outside Hawaii.

;» ”;E Ku’u Lei”;
;» ”;Comin’ Home”;
;» ”;Maka ‘Alohilohi”;




(Heads Up International)

; The veteran Japanese-American jazz fusion band revisits the best material from their first 10 years with this new album, celebrating being together for three decades.

Founders and former married couple Dan and June Kuramoto may be the core of the band—filled out by Hawaii-born Kimo Cornwell, Dean Cortez, Danny Yamamoto and Shoji Kameda—but it's the sound of June's virtuoso koto playing that has been, and continues to be, the soul of Hiroshima's multifaceted music.

The mix of East and West is never more evident than with the opening track, the sweeping and dramatic “;Winds of Change,”; mixing the aural colors of the koto and Dan's shakuhachi into the cinematic composition. The same can be said for an extended version of “;Another Place,”; veering from atmospheric, near ambiant sound to grounded and confident soloing from Dan on flute and Cornwell on the Fender Rhodes electic piano.

Two of Hiroshima's older hits, “;One Wish”; and “;Hawaiian Electric,”; also get a fresh remake, the former combining funk with a shimmering synth wash and June's piquant koto work, and the latter made into a good-natured romp (with a little bit of ipu thrown in the intro) that later muscles up with a Cuban flourish.

And the Hawaii connection is strengthened with the inclusion of former member Derek Nakamoto's co-writing credits with June Kuramoto on “;I've Been Here Before”; and “;Thousand Cranes,”; as well as his synthesized string programming on “;Winds of Change,”; “;Roomful of Mirrors”; and “;Dada;”; the latter two also featuring confident vocals from 2007 “;Hawaii Stars”; winner Yvette Nii.

The quality of Hiroshima's music is only matched by its longevity. Here's to the band's 31st anniversary. —Gary C.W. Chun / Star-Bulletin