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Hiroshima: Little Tokyo (2007)

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Hiroshima: Little Tokyo How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

There's something about the word "crossover that makes musicians and their fans cringe—as if it's bad to be considered diverse. Yet that's exactly what Hiroshima is—a band that plays a little bit of everything.

Originating in Los Angeles, this Japanese-American ensemble has been a lesson in cultural diversity since its beginnings in 1974 and album debut in 1979. Hiroshima's music, though largely centered around the genre of smooth jazz, blends traditional Asian melodies with R&B, pop, African styles and some straightforward jazz. Often, several of these elements come together in a single track, which is the case through much of Little Tokyo.

The core band is comprised of Dan Kuramoto (saxophones, flutes, keyboards), ex-wife June Kuramoto( koto), Kimo Cornwell (keyboards, Rhodes, piano), Danny Yamamoto (drums), Shoji Kameda (taiko, percussion), Dean Taba (acoustic bass), Dean Cortez (bass) and a several guest musicians.

"Midnight Sun sets things off with Dan Kuramoto's brooding flute setting up June's koto, which brings the other instruments in. This Middle Eastern-inspired track features Kameda and Kenny Endo on taiko drums, one of several tracks with one or both musicians. Dan's tenor sax engages in a haunting, snake charmer solo.

Pieces of a Dream's James Lloyd wrote "Lanai, on which he also plays keyboards and synthesizers. This track, more so than most, has a strong smooth jazz feel. It's an upbeat groove, accented by the koto, Cornwell's elegant piano and Dan Kuramoto's tenor. The funky "Red Beans and Rice features the Kuramotos mostly, but Cortez's bass line and Yamamoto's drum licks help spice it up.

Han contributes to "Quan Yin (Goddess of Compassion), playing the ehru, a stringed instrument that sounds similar to the violin. Taba's acoustic bass helps give this track an old-school jazz feel, though the other instruments make it distinctively Eastern. Cornwell's solo on the Rhodes injects a bit of 1970s fusion, punctuated by Yamamoto's work on the toms and cymbals.

Over the years, Hiroshima has earned several awards: Odori (Razor and Tie, 1980) earned a Grammy nomination. Another Place (Sony/Epic, 1985) spawned the hit single "One Wish and became the group's first gold record. Go (Sony/Epic, 1987) topped the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart for three months and earned a Soul Train Award for Best Jazz Album of 1987. These honors are due in large part to the group's widespread appeal. That appeal remains strong with Little Tokyo.

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 sax (1-4, 6, 9-11), flute (1, 5), keyboards (1, 5, 7-8, 10), synths (1, 4-11), alto sax (3), percussion (4), shakuhachi (6), alto flute (7), soprano sax (8); Kimo Cornwell: keyboards (1), synths (1-9), piano (2-8, 11), Rhodes (2-8), Clavinet (9); Danny Yamamoto: drums (1-9, 11); Shoji Kameda: taiko (1, 6-7, 9, 11), percussion (1, 6-7, 9, 11), voice (6, 10-11); Dean Taba: acoustic bass (1, 6, 8, 10); Kenny Endo: taiko (1, 6-7, 11), percussion (1, 6-8, 11), tsutsumi and voice (6); Richie Gajate Garcia: conga (1, 5, 8), percussion (1, 5, 7-8), timbales (5); Dean Cortez: bass (2-5, 7, 9, 11); James Lloyd: keyboards and synthesizers (3); Mary Garcia: conquito (5); Karen Hwa-Chee Han: erhu (8); Leslie Chew: guitars (9).

Record Label: Heads Up International

Style: Contemporary/Smooth


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