NOTES ON THE BRIDGE
On the eve of the release of our 14th CD, THE BRIDGE, I thought it would be a good time for me to take my 'turn' on writing notes. Be forewarned I prefer a more 'stream of consciousness' approach to this, so I may ramble and bounce around a bit. And these are just my own personal views.
We decided to call the CD THE BRIDGE because it seems like we've spent a career attempting either to make bridges--or cross them. The journey has been pretty much a roller coaster, but miraculous and enriching nonetheless.
Like opening for Miles Davis on the JVC tour the year before he died. You want to talk about thrilled and nervous all the time, like we're talkin our absolute hero--and we get to hear him practice in his dressing room right next to ours--and the memorable moment in NYC at Avery Fisher hall when Miles walked down the hall--playing his trumpet, of course, and as he entered the elevator going to the stage, he turned and said to us, "fellas."
If you know anything at all about Miles' reputation, that was a high water mark for us, "Fellas."
We have seen this world of music change so much, its kind of mind blowing. When we started recording, it was all about fusion and our fave, quiet storm, a hip combination of R&B and Jazz with a taste of Latin. Everyone was into discovering new sounds and unique talents. As a 'bridge' the last 20 years we see music- once one of the most successful components of the arts and entertainment industry-struggling to survive with multiple years of decreased profits and a trend toward sameness. Originality and depth are very scarce out there--and whatever happened to radio?
We've tried to take a hard look at all this and see where we fit in now. I think for us June's CD, "Spirit and Soul," has been pivotal. She originally did it for our former label Windham Hill Records, but as it seemed to close up shop, June decided to release it herself. Both the spontaneity and soulfulness of her project, along with her courage to self-release when the label 'went south' really inspired us. We then recorded our Christmas project, "Spirit of the Season," which we are really happy with. We even did a couple of purely Christmas shows last December, and they were great! We planned to self-release it ourselves, but that plan may be waylaid. More on that at another time. In any case we find ourselves 'bridging' into a new period in our career-all this made possible by what others call a 'fan-base' that supports us regardless of radio, record industry issues and on and on. THANK YOU. YOU are Hiroshima as much as we are. More on THAT later as well. Again, major domos!
Back to our new CD, THE BRIDGE, its on a small, hip label called Heads Up ( a division of the European company Telarc). The label is headed by a young energetic cat named Dave Love In a nutshell, he wanted us to reconnect with you all, and grow our audience.
We wanted to make a CD that was more uptempo and uplifting, with a definite message. We wanted to showcase the whole band and not to lean on June quite so much, to have her be the fabric of our music rather than carry every song (her CD's can now be that focus). THE BRIDGE is really the full palette of Hiroshima. Opening with "Eternal Phoenix", a dynamic, cross-cultural excursion with a burning piano solo by Kimo, through our ode to 70's message songs in an updated version of the Isley Brothers classic song of brotherhood, "Caravan of Love," and ending with "7 Rivers," a song based on a beautiful event held every year in the city of Hiroshima, and filled with grooves and chants and soul, THE BRIDGE is Hiroshima today.
Okay I just noticed this piece I'm writing is getting pretty long. We'll continue this and get into the details and stories of the recording of the eleven songs on THE BRIDGE soon.
Okay, as promised, here's the next installment on 'notes' talking about our new CD, THE BRIDGE. I thought I'd give a little background on each of the songs--the why, what and how of our first new CD in 5 years.
Actually I should back up a little. We DID record our own Christmas CD (we did it without a record company!), while we were briefly 'between' record companies. We finished it the middle of last December. Its called "SPIRIT OF THE SEASON," and we really enjoyed the project, and thought it turned out much better than we could have ever anticipated. So WHY are we not releasing it this year? Well, we ended up signing with a new label, Heads Up International and they opted to buy our Christmas CD, which they thought was very cool (to be released in 2004), and also to focus on our first release with them--THE BRIDGE. Weird how all this works.
So to task. If this is too much information, let me know and I'll chill next time around.
Track one- Eternal Phoenix composed by Kimo Cornwell
This fabulous amalgam of world percussion instruments, shamisen, fue, jazz, 'machine loops' and pretty much everything else was an idea Kimo had that we knew had to be on this record as soon as we heard it.
We were all knocked out by an Indian percussionist when we played in Baltimore last year, a cat named Karsh Kale. He was doing what we do, but coming from an Indian perspective, with tabla, and vocals and harmonium and funk. Very, very cool stuff. Kimo integrated that vibe, with a Japanese flavor (back in the 70's there was an amazing musical theater piece called "Red Budda Theater," by Stomu Yamashita that June and I loved, so we tried to give it some of that feel as well) along with some hip acoustic bass by our friend and guest bassist, Dean Taba (also from Hawaii--is there a pattern here?), the always brilliant multi-percussionist and Hiroshima familia, Richie Gajate Garcia, and a great piano solo by Kimo his own self.
Track two- Caravan of Love composed by the Isley Bros.
Doing songs by other artists--commonly known as doing a 'cover,' is something we do with great care. First of all, if you love a song enough to do it, whats wrong with the original (short answer-to reprise it AND give it your own spin can be cool) ? That being said, I spent countless hours trying to find a 'message' song that we could cover, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, that could be OUR take on what we Americans can do. Ultimately I ended up going back to the seventies, when doing songs with meaning was not only cool, but important (what the hell has happened??)."Caravan" is a song of brotherhood, and we in the band love brotherhood (after all, we are a band--and there aren't many left). It is also soulful and in our mind, will never go out of style. It’s the first 'cover' that we didn't change much. Because its about the vibe. An interesting note, ALL the male vocals were sung (and arranged) by brother Terry Steele.
Track three- Shaka Phonk composed by Dan Kuramoto and Kimo Cornwell
Titles like these are practical. You get an idea or direction and you have to name it something, and sometimes the title just seems to stick (a few years ago we did a song I wrote called "No. 9." Its because I was into numbering my ideas. Somehow that stuck. Clever I am).
I wanted to write a song that would feature Kimo. He's such an amazing piano player, but when you have 'her royal highness' June-chan in your band (she will kill me when she reads this, she is SO humble its boring), things can get overshadowed. It is one of the only songs that has a little drum machine on it, though Danny overdubbed real drums on top of it. It is also one of the few songs that modulates (changes keys), since the koto can't really change keys on the fly, so it was an experiment for that reason. Also I had the urge to do some horn section stuff, so Kimo and I did horn charts and we just combined them!! Really fun to do. On trumpet is a chiropractor buddy of mine (Dave Honjio) who fronted a band called "Carry On" back in the day, and guesting again on acoustic bass is Dean Taba, who will play for anybody that provides 'plate lunch.' He rocks.
Track four- Believe composed by Kimo Cornwell and Dan Kuramoto
So much of life is happenstance. When I was working on a score for a BET TV movie with Kimo, one of the music cues that Kimo wrote really reminded me of the style of music early in our career that we loved--and fit right into-- called "Quiet Storm." I started work on the cue and added another section and some lyrics and we developed it into this song. It is ALL about the VIBE. Also I always wanted to do an alto flute solo on an R&B tune!
Track five- Revelation composed by Dan Kuramoto
I love Gospel music. The only time I consistently listen to music on the radio these days is on Sunday, when they play gospel music. In a typical Hiroshima juxtaposition, I also loved the album "Swiss Movement" with Eddie Harris and Les McCann. We tried bringing those elements together in a cross-cultural, raising of the spirit!
Track six- Another Wish composed by Dan Kuramoto
Okay, so the truth is, I wrote this song for the "Spirit of the Season," Christmas CD, but it seemed so catchy and had such a good feel that we decided to hold it for "The Bridge."
I originally called it, "Christmas Wish" because it sorta had the "One Wish" vibe. Now what do we call it? June, who came up with the title for "One Wish," came up with this title as well. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
Track seven- I Just Wanna Hang Around You composed by Cruz Baca Sembello, Danny Sembello, John Sembello and Michael Sembello
I know I said earlier that we don't do many 'covers,' but I was looking for a familiar song that we could put our spin on--and feature our lead singer, Terry Steele. He came over to Tofuville to work out our vocal concepts on this song one Monday nite, and just nailed it. By the way, you should see Terry singing in the studio because he puts his whole heart, body and soul into it--to the point that he's always knocking things over with his arms while he singing, so we have to clear the area for him! Really a soulful cat.
Track eight- Manzanar composed by Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto
This song is dedicated to our Nisei. To Japanese-Americans, the Issei, or first generation are our ancestors who came to America. The second generation or Nisei, are our parents generation. We are the third generation.
During World War II, our parents and grandparents were all incarcerated--a whole people, just for being Japanese. They were forced to leave their homes, give up their property for little or nothing--and all their possessions, and forcibly placed into barbed-wired, armed guard enclosed 'camps,' generally in remote desert locales. Ironically, our uncles were allowed to leave 'camp' to serve in the U.S. military both as soldiers and in military intelligence. They became the most decorated of units in the history of American warfare (like June's uncle, who gave his life for us in Europe)--all the while their family and loved ones remained forcibly detained (it should be noted that there were no known acts of sabotage by Japanese Americans during that war).
Our parents have always been reluctant to talk about those 'days.' One day however, I got my mom to open up a little. I remember her telling me how strange it was to be an American one day--and then to be under suspicion as a people the next. About how little time there was to pack up what you could carry, and give up everything else. And ultimately how lonely and barren and shameful it felt to be imprisoned in the middle of nowhere--in a place called Manzanar. And she spoke most of the lonely wind at night, how it would send a chill through her soul.
This song is that wind (shakuhachi), and the stars (koto), and the quiet spirit of our people.
Track nine- Viven composed by Dan Kuramoto
I know its really not proper Spanish, just saying Viven. But I figure I am born and raised in East Los Angeles, and we speak spanglish there anyway. If I'm correct, Viven translate to they live. Viven is a song about the triumph of spirit. Its maybe a combination of the times, but losing those you love (I lost my cousin and best friend to cancer this year) and other tragic and sad events made me soul search a great deal. It made me want to write a song about the spirit of those I love and admire, both here and on the other side. They DO live.
Track ten- Sanju composed by Dan Kuramoto
I have long felt that Wayne Shorter is both one of the finest sax players AND composers of our time. And the band Weather Report and Zawinul and his music also very cool. I would be a liar if I said this song was not influenced by both those artists. Sanju literally means 30, and of course it was my 30th idea for this CD. I wanted to write a tone poem of sorts, focusing on a kind of duet with our bass player, Dean and me on soprano sax. It was based on a certain feeling.
Track eleven- Seven Rivers composed by Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto
This song was based on an idea that I had for our previous CD, Between Black and White that never made it on that project. June loved the idea and developed a concept for it based on a festival that occurs every year in the city of Hiroshima. It deals with souls lost in war, and is symbolized by lit candles that float down the rivers of Hiroshima on little paper 'rafts.'
It should be noted that we finally found out that there are only 6 rivers in Hiroshima. By that time we so loved the idea of SEVEN rivers, that we kept the title anyway. It features a story song sung by Terry, spoken by June, and two chants, the second of which is the actual chant used in the festival in Hiroshima-- toronagashi. The soulful guitar solo is by Bay Area legend, Michael Sasaki.
We truly hope you enjoy it.