Beverly J. Packard
Obon (Heads Up International) features Dan Kuramoto as composer, producer, and on keyboard and woodwind instruments; June Kuramoto on the koto; Kimo Cornwell on piano and keyboard; Danny Yamamoto , drums and percussion; Dean Cortez on bass; and Shoji Kameda as Taiko drummer and percussionist.
Obon is Hiroshima's third Heads Up recording, and it continues to reflect their musical message of diversity. Says Dan Kuramoto, "Every Hiroshima record is an attempt to reflect the diversity of our society. That diversity is the heart and soul of our music."
Obon has the distinction of being the first instrumental album in the 25 year history of Hiroshima. There is greater use of the saxophone, flute and piano, to the listener's delight, and there is wonderful percussion and bass throughout the album. The band continues the use of a variety of traditional Asian instruments, including the ever-popular koto, a stringed instrument, the shakuhachi, a five-holded bamboo flute, and the powerful taiko (literal word for drum). Songs are well placed and each one has special significance.
The opening track, Swiss Ming, with its great piano work and instrumental effects, grabs your attention and heralds in the celebratory theme of the CD....
Swiss Ming's dynamic transitions have its serious tones, foreshadowing the reverent nature of the CD, as well. It is inspired by the classic Les McCann/Eddie Harris album Swiss Movement and Chef Ming Tsai, host of the cooking show Simply Ming on public television.
Halfway through is Obon two-five, standing for the 25 years of Hiroshima’s recording career. Taking advantage of Shoji Kameda’s booming taiko drum to send the official signal to celebrate, the song also quiets to a reverence and features June’s delicate koto playing --in the end it’s a compelling call to both celebration and reflection.
China Latina is a soft and steady, beautifully melodious blend of piano and koto. The saxophone becomes prominent later in the song, and it moves into a rather jazzy rhythm by the end of the song. It was written by Dan Kuramoto and bassist Dean Cortez for the group’s co-founder June Kuramoto – according to Dan, "a girl from Japan, raised in Los Angeles and trained as a classical kotoist, who made her dream of integrating music and cultures together a reaality." Paris, another sweet and soft melody, features the flute and is June’s lullaby to the City of Light.
Kototso-han is a more haunting song that draws you back to former times with traditional Asian instruments and features more great percussion.
Atomic Cafe features the bass, koto, saxophone, great percussion, effective key changes, and works up into a bit of a frenzy near the end. It recalls a ‘70s hangout in LA’s little Tokyo district.
One Thursday Morning is a great central song, in which the koto is prominently featured and draws you in; the koto has such a unique sound -- a little piano, a little harp, a little violin -- the perfect blend. This song reflects on the week gone by and the weekend coming up. No wonder it's a favorite!
Mr. Robben features almost a big band sound, drums and special instrumental effects; it includes a lot of saxophone and is very positive, commanding and celebratory. It is jazz keyboard sensation Kimo Cornwell’s tribute to Nelson Mandela.
Pharoah, dedicated to jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, really moves and features a lot of piano and saxophone.
The Lighthouse begins with a very pretty piano sound, later changing to a more complex, jazzy sound with prominent bass guitar. This one is a tribute to the legendary jazz club in Hermosa Beach, California, which was a center for west coast jazz in the 1950s.
Heritage is the beautiful ending and exquisite blending of koto and piano and flute. It’s fitting to end on this note of poignant optimism, and it reminds us that yes, even in our reverence, we can celebrate the ones who have gone before us as well as celebrate all who surround us today.
Says Dan Kuramoto, “Obon is both tribute and celebration. It is a new beginning for us.”
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council