Something seems to happen to many bands after they enter 20 to 25 years of making music. They seem to run out of new and interesting things to say and pretty soon all they do is recycle the same scant ideas over and over as they become dim parodies of themselves. You see this happen all the time in rock 'n roll where, too often, making money takes precedence over having anything new and fresh to say.
How fortunate it is that Hiroshima doesn't play rock. If anything the band has stayed fresh and innovative by merging jazz, R&B, and world music with an awesome array of Japanese percussion and other native instruments like June Kuramoto's koto. Hiroshima makes some truly diverse and interesting music and Little Tokyo, its fourteenth album, is the second consecutive release without a featured vocalist. The decision to eschew a singer is a smart move by Hiroshima as it puts the music first instead of merely sounding like the back-up band.
Dan Kuramoto's mournful tenor sax offsets the booming taiko drums of Shoji Kameda and Kenny Endo, as June Kuramoto's koto solidifies the Far Eastern roots of the group and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Kimo Cornwell's piano and keyboards are standouts, particularly so on “On the Fence,” and again as he trades off with keyboardist James Lloyd from Pieces of A Dream as he sits in on the lovely “Lanai.”
Just because Hiroshima can play it sophisticated and stylish doesn't mean they can't get down. “Red Beans and Rice,” by Cornwell, is an homage by the band to the spirit and culture of New Orleans as it struggles to rise again from the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, showing off some nasty-as-he-wanna-be bass by Dean Cortez.
There has been an ongoing love affair between Hiroshima and black American music since the band began in 1979. They don't just want to sit back and close your eyes in blissful contemplation; they want you to get up and dance or at the very least snap your fingers, bob your head and shake your groove thing. “Drama,” “Hiro Chill” and “Little Tokyo Underground” are all designed provoke such a reaction. Unlike some bands whose attempts to jam seem contrived and calculated, Hiroshima never lapses into a parody of a dance band. Its foundation is, first and foremost, a jazz band that knows how to groove and when to lay back and soothe.
Little Tokyo is ample evidence Hiroshima is still rising and advancing as a musical force to be reckoned with and respected. There's no danger of them joining the country fair circuit of broken-down oldies bands dutifully cranking out tired version of past hits. Dan Kuramoto and the rest of Hiroshima are still challenging themselves, making innovative music and having fun in the process.
By Jeff Winbush
Track Listing: Midnight Sun; On the Fence; Lanai; Red Beans and Rice; Sir Charles; Hidden Times; Shades of Honor; Quan Yin; Drama; Hiro Chill; Little Tokyo Underground.
Personnel: June Kuramoto: koto; Dan Kuramoto: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute, keyboards, synthesizer, percussion, shakuhachi; Kimo Cornwell: piano, synthesizer, rhodes, clavinet; Danny Yamamoto: drums; Dean Cortez: bass; Shoji Kameda: taiko, percussion, voice; Dean Taba: acoustic bass (1, 6, 8, 10); Kenny Endo: taiko, percussion (1, 6-8, 11); Richie Gajate Garcia: conga, percussion (1, 5, 7, 8); James Lloyd: keyboards, synthesizers (2); Mary Garcia: coquito (5); Leslie Chew: guitars (9).
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