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.
I’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.
Pre-order Legacy from Amazon.com!
One constant in the contemporary jazz world is the planning and reliable execution of Heads Up recordings. I just got the list for 2009 and it’s another winner for contemporary jazz fans. I’ll elaborate more in later posts but here’s what’s on the schedule:
Incognito – More Tales Remixed – remixes of songs from the latest Incognito release;
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Live;
Walter Beasley – Free Your Mind
Joe Zawinul – 75 – two-disc live set;
Pieces of a Dream – Soul Intent;
Mike Stern – New Morning The Paris Concert;
The Bad Plus Joined by Wendy Lewis – For All I Care
Marion Meadows – TBD;
Chuck Loeb – Between 2 Worlds;
Yellowjackets – New Morning The Paris Concert
Candy Dulfer; Hiroshima
Spyro Gyra; Zap Mama; Stanley Clarke/Hiromi/Lenny White
Alexander Zonjic, Andy Narell
Najee; Mike Stern; Joe Zawinul DVD
Take 6 – a new holiday recording
Even 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 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.