Review: Hiroshima – Between Black and White

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.

Review: Boney’s Funky Christmas from Boney James

[This is an archived review I wrote at some point between 1997 and 1999.]

Boney's Funky Christmas from Boney JamesThe ads for Boney’s first holiday release call this “the album to put on after you put the kids to bed.” Sure enough, Boney’s Funky Christmas features the seductive grooves you know the saxman for. This is the smoothest Christmas release I’ve heard in the last two years. Boney’s stamp on these songs (mostly traditional holiday tunes) is distinctive and the rhythms and production by his longtime producer, Paul Brown are top notch. Boney is especially tender on the Chris Eaton/Amy Grant composition “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” He has able assistance on the album from guest vocalists Dee Harvey (on “This Christmas”) and Bobby Caldwell (on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”). Rick Braun guests on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Although the other eight tracks are in the silky r&b vein, Boney also tries his hand at a stripped down sound with just him and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa on “Jingle Bells.” Overall, this is one of the most solid contemporary jazz holiday releases and one that will be enjoyed for years to come.

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Obituary: Nick Webb

Guitarist and composer Nick Webb, a founding member of the contemporary jazz group Acoustic Alchemy, died in London Feb. 5, 1998 from cancer, the group’s publicist said. He was 43.

Webb, a native of England, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago, and at the time of his death was finishing work on the Grammy-nominated group’s 10th album, Positive Thinking, publicist David Millman said.

“Nick was a sweet, wonderful man and a wonderful friend,” said Webb’s chief collaborator, Greg Carmichael, who formed Acoustic Alchemy with Webb in 1987.

“Though this past year was quite difficult for him, Nick managed to write some of the most beautiful music of his life. If there’s any silver lining, it’s knowing that, ’till the very end, he was doing what he loved and that he was surrounded by his adoring family,” Carmichael said in a statement.

Review: Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party

Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party

Warner Bros. gathered its jazz and contemporary jazz rosters to put together the label’s first holiday collection. But, unlike other label holiday albums, Jazz Christmas Party, doesn’t just feature submitted tracks from its artists. WB artists collaborated together on several songs on this album. Bob James and Béla Fleck duet on “White Christmas. Michael Franks and Kirk Whalum work together on Franks’ “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree.” The constant on the release is the keys of the label’s big three pianists – Bob James, Brad Mehldau, and Larry Goldings. The songs aren’t exactly Christmas standards. Al Jarreau, Boney James, Bob James, and Larry Goldings perform on Kenny Loggins and Bob James’s “Celebrate Me Home.” Whalum lays down his gospel sound on “A Cradle of Bethlehem.” New WB vocalist Gabriela Anders delivers a great debut on her original “Our First Christmas.” The musicianship on the album is top-notch, from the headliners to the rhythm provided by James Genus, Larry Grenadier, Jorge Rossy, and Billy Kilson.

Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party is a seasonal album that all jazz fans will enjoy.

t r a c k s
(note that several musicians play on several other tracks)

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” – Joshua Redman; “Celebrate Me Home” – Al Jarreau; “A Cradle In Bethlehem” – Kirk Whalum; “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree” – Michael Franks; “Our First Christmas” – Gabriela Anders; “Silent Night” – Larry Goldings and Brad Mehldau; “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” – Boney James; “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – Kevin Mahogany; “Pure Imagination” – Mark Turner; “Christmas Time Is Here” – Brad Mehldau Trio; “Personent Hodie (Sing Aloud This Day)” – Bob James Trio; “White Christmas” – Béla Fleck and Bob James

Review: Is Love Enough? from George Duke

Is Love Enough? from George Duke

George Duke says he “stretched a little more into the funk area on this one because I had so many people ask me to.” Think he’s kidding? The first half of Is Love Enough?, which is much more like his previous Warner Bros. albums Snapshot and Illusions than last year’s Muir Woods Suite, is heavy on the funk and slow jams. On the opening of “Kinda Low,” Duke, bassist Byron Miller, and drummer Ndugu Chancler declare “Once ya funky, ya always funky!” The groove is deep, with the sole exception of the sweet “Fill the Need.” Duke gets jazzier after the instrumental “Time and Space” interlude (futuristic instrumentals open and close the album). After Duke’s uptempo “Back in the Day” instrumental, he lets Jonathan Butler and Dianne Reeves take over “This Place I Call Home.” Dori Caymmi is featured on “Whatever Happened To…” Duke pulls in many of his frequent partners, including Everette Harp, Rachelle Ferrell, Phil Perry, and George Howard. Also appearing on the album are Doc Powell and Norman Brown. Of his fellow musicians, Duke says “each of you brought gourmet dishes to the musical table.” Is Love Enough? features a table with equal portions of funk and contemporary jazz. Whether you enjoy one or the other, or both, you’ll feel satisfied.

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