Hiroshima – Departure

Review of the contemporary jazz recording Departure by Hiroshima by

I stopped writing reviews a few years ago. One of the major reasons is that I just didn’t have any new things to say. Fortunately, Hiroshima doesn’t have that problem. The group, led by Dan Kuramoto, continues to make their own East Meets West contemporary jazz. Departure, their 18th recording, is defined by its title. They are releasing this on their own. No record label marketing push or anything like that. They’re an indie band.

“Why Departure? Where do I begin? After more than 30 years in the recording industry — and almost four million records sold – we’ve decided to leave record companies behind and venture on our own,” Kuramoto explains. “It’s kinda scary, but given the changes in the music industry and what it’s now going to take for us to survive, we are moving toward direct contact with the community.”

A big part of reaching out to the community is putting content on one of the top three web sites in the world – Facebook. Hiroshima contributes frequently to their Facebook hub. One of the best things there is links to video commentaries by the band for every track on Departure.

What about the music? Kuramoto breaks it down: “It is a new beginning for us in many ways. The songs are all originals with just one guest artist, the incredible harmonica player Tetsuya “Tex” Nakamura, featured on the luscious opening track, “Have You Ever Wondered,” composed by June and Kimo. “Koto Cruise” is the second song and features a funky groove and a burning koto solo. “Blues for Sendai” is just that. There’s a tribute to our friend and mentor James Moody, who passed last December. It’s called “See You Again,” and there is a lot of ‘quoting’ from his “Moody’s Mood for Love.” After many years of requests, we have recorded our first full-on taiko solo ever, “Yamasong”–a live recording that really captures Shoji and Danny’s fierce interplay. “First Nation,” a composition by the Hawaiian Kimo Cornwell, is a powerhouse of a song embracing many cultures, as does our reincarnation of “Thousand Cranes.” The CD ends with a soulful version of “One Wish,” done as an acoustic trio.”

Consistent quality, a distinct sound, and longevity = win. If I were creating a Contemporary Jazz Hall of Fame, Hiroshima would certainly be an early inductee.

8 from 1989 – Mix Online!

Take a step into the past with these eight tracks from contemporary jazz releases that came out in the year 1989! Listen to classics from the Rippingtons, Miles Davis, and Hiroshima. Also, who put the meat in my bed?! It’s the second mix I’ve published on 8tracks. If you like this blast from the past, check out my 1988 mix with David Sanborn, David Benoit, Spyro Gyra, Tom Grant, Kim Pensyl, and Al Jarreau.

1989 Contemporary Jazz from contemporaryjazz on 8tracks.

Hiroshima Legacy

Legacy - East meets West contemporary jazz from HiroshimaI’ve been a fan of Hiroshima for a long time. I love contemporary jazz. I love Japanese arts, culture, and society. It’s been a natural fit. I’ve been recommending The Best of Hiroshima compilation for a long time. It’s been the best compilation of their music from their earlier recordings. It’s also been their only compilation…until now. The band is celebrating 30 years in the recording industry with a retrospective called Legacy. Legacy is eleven of the band’s more familiar songs from their first decade, re-recorded by the band’s current lineup. Led by founders Dan Kuramoto (on saxophone) and June Kuramoto (on koto), Legacy reminds you how their East Meets West sound became so popular (two of their first five records went gold). The songs are nicely balanced between faithful renditions and reworked versions that sound like what they might have created for live performances. I don’t know if Hiroshima’s old label is keeping Best of Hiroshima in circulation so I’m happy the band included some original arrangements. Tracks like “Turning Point,” “Thousand Cranes,” “One Wish,” and “I’ve Been Here Before” stand the test of time. The updated, extended version of “Another Place” works for me. “Hawaiian Electric” stays a little too familiar at first (the 80s keyboard sound could have been left behind) then goes salsa. Appropriately omnipresent is June, who plays the koto as beautifully as ever.

Dan Kuramoto sums up Legacy best: “I would like to think that there’s a heart and a voice within this music that doesn’t go out of style,” he says. “These songs are as fresh and meaningful to us today as they were the first time they were recorded. They’re not of a particular genre. They are our musical heart. They shift gears from Japanese to jazz to salsa to R&B and beyond. Throughout each piece, you can hear the echoes of all the experiences that have influenced us along the way.”

Look for Legacy from Hiroshima out on August 18 on the Heads Up label.

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Review: Spirit of the Season from Hiroshima

Spirit of the Season from HiroshimaEven though Hiroshima had songs on a couple of Windham Hill holiday compilations, Spirit of the Season is the first full holiday release from the band. After listening to this 11-song collection, I’m ready for the sequel. This is an excellent holiday recording and makes me wonder why they haven’t done it before. June Kuramoto’s koto again is the highlight. The distinctiveness of the koto sound makes many of the traditional holiday songs sound like new. June’s expressiveness on “White Christmas” and playfulness on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” demonstrate her mastery of the instrument. The latter song is the best rendition I’ve heard of that song in a long time. Also notable, and appropriate given Hiroshima’s east-meets-west sound, is the use of taiko drums on “Little Drummer Boy.” Two new instrumentals also add to the fun: the atmospheric “Listen (To the Falling Snow)” and the uplifting “Peace On Earth.” The group’s classic “Thousand Cranes” is revisited and is enhanced with a gospel choir.

Overall, Spirit of the Season succeeds in evoking that special feeling of the holiday. It’s perfect for every holiday occasion – decorating your tree, dinner party, or just listening on your own. Even better, tell your friends!

Hiroshima News

Hiroshima, the East Meets West jazz fusion band, has signed with the Heads Up label. Their next release will be issued on June 24, 2003. Dan Kuramoto, the group’s leader said, “Hiroshima has always been an attempt to create a unique, evolving, multicultural American music, like a mirror of our Pacific Rim communities. After 20 years, we are energized with the sense that our best work is in front of us.”

June Kuramoto - Spirit and SoulHiroshima co-founder June Kuramoto finally gets to see her solo release, Spirit and Soul, in wide release next week. Although it’s been available at the Hiroshima web site for many months, you’ll now have a chance to buy the CD in stores and at online stores. June is one of the world’s foremost koto players and, as you might expect, the CD is a more personal work. She recently told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin Online that “the album has a lot of meaning to me. This is music from a woman’s perspective.” For more on June’s new release, and the Kuramotos thoughts on today’s music industry, check out the article.