Hiroshima celebrates 25 years as a band this year and 20 years since the group first hit the instrumental charts. Their unique East-meets-West sound is on full display on their Windham Hill debut, Between Black and White. Hiroshima continues to effectively blend contemporary jazz with traditional Japanese elements and urban influences. “We’ve always stood apart from other instrumental groups of our time by taking the graceful classical sound of the koto and experimenting with varying American musical idioms around that,” says leader/co-founder Dan Kuramoto. “We create musically a cross-commentary about a multitude of cultures that comes from our backgrounds as Asian Americans growing up in a racially diverse America.”
Between Black and White features a diverse plate of sounds. In addition to the familiar sounds of June Kuramoto on koto and Johnny Mori on the taiko drum, the CD features instrumentation such as bongos, the Hammond B-3 organ, the shakuhachi, vibraphone, and the flan. Guest artist Karen Hwa-Chee plays the Er-hu, a Chinese violin whose origin dates back 5000 years, on the gorgeous “Dreams.” Another gentle, noteworthy track is “After the Rain,” which features sweet interaction between June and guest musician Hammer Smith on the chromatic harmonica. Of the twelve songs, only two feature vocals and those are more in the style of the band’s mid-80s songs like “Tabo” and “A Thousand Cranes” than the more urban-inspired songs featured in later recordings.
If you haven’t picked up a Hiroshima CD in a while, or if you’re looking for quality contemporary jazz that isn’t constrained by today’s smooth jazz format, or even if you just want to try something new, I recommend getting Between Black and White.