From the opening gong, you know you're in for a treat with Obon. Marking Hiroshima's 25th anniversary, the new disc is the Japanese-American group's first without vocalssave a wordless chant by Shoji Kameda on "Obon Two-Five. Formed by Dan and June Kuramoto (the only Japanese native in the group) in 1979, Hiroshima has successfully blended traditional Japanese sounds with North American pop, soul, R&B, and of course jazz. Another Place, released in 1985, was their first gold record; it featured the crossover hit "One Wish.
Since then, Hiroshima has gone on to score a Soul Train award for Best Jazz Album with 1987's Go, among many other honors. Notable for June Kuramoto's koto, a classical Japanese string instrument, and longtime member Johnny Mori's taiko drum, Hiroshima has stood the test of time as a cross-cultural icon of contemporary music that is as much at home on smooth jazz radio as it is with pop, R&B, world music, and jazz in general.
The first track, "Swiss Ming, features Dan Kuramoto on tenor sax, and this upbeat tune gets your attention from the first note. The song is inspired by the Les McCann/Eddie Harris album Swiss Movement and Chef Ming Tsai, host of the cooking show Simply Ming on public television. The melody marginally resembles the classic rock hit "She's Not There, but otherwise the song stands on its own ground. It's followed by the elegant "China Latina, which epitomizes Hiroshima's multicultural repertoire, and the haunting "Kototsu-Han. The fourth track, "Atomic Café, introduces a bit of hip-hop and funk, with DJ T-Rock providing the scratching introduction. The song is highlighted by Dean Cortez's bass line and Dan Kuramoto's tenor, supplemented by guest musician Ira Nepus on trombone.
The title cut is an expression of the band's 25 years in the recording industry, with each member taking a turn. Again expressing their multicultural influence, the group turns toward African rhythms with "Mr. Robben. In June 2004, Hiroshima performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town, South Africa. While there, they visited Robben Island, a prison where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during apartheid. The inspiration for the song, written by Kimo Cornwell, grew out of that experience and seeing the deplorable conditions of the prison. The two straight jazz tracks are "Pharoah, a tribute to many of the group's inspirations, including Pharoah Saunders, Gato Barbieri, and Miles Davis; and "Lighthouse, which pays homage to the Lighthouse, a jazz landmark in Hermosa Beach, California.
This 25th anniversary recording may be Hiroshima's best ever. It's difficult to do the album justice without saying something about each of the eleven songs, all penned by members of the group. However, one thing that's not difficult is enjoying it start to finish.
Swiss Ming, China Latina, Kototsu-Han (San Kyoku), Atomic Caf
Dan Kuramoto, tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes, shakuhachi, keyboards; June Kuramoto, koto; Kimo Cornwell, piano and keyboards; Danny Yamamoto, drums; Dean Cortez, bass; Shoji Kameda, taiko and percussion; guest musicians: Kenny Endo, tsutsumi and percussion; Allen Hinds, guitar; Richie Gajate Garcia, percussion; Mary Garcia, flan; Karen Hwa-Chee Han, er-hu; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Ira Nepus, trombone; Dean Taba, acoustic bass; DJ T-Rock, scratching; Princess and Master Noga, the floor
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