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* WELCOME TO THE SMOOTH JAZ
Hiroshima — Departure
Grammy-nominated supergroup Hiroshima has proven time and again that their fame and fan following are no flukes. The group boasts almost 4 decades of wonderfully tasteful music, and their latest, Departure, lacks nothing in style, talent, structure, or identity – qualities that can sometimes take a hit in this business where longevity can either make or scar one’s legacy (it’s called the same everywhere and in all forms of entertainment: Staying too long – something about which this group needn’t worry).
Speaking of legacy, that happens to be the title of one of the two previous releases from this band (the other being Another Place) before this warm and splendid mix of the Far East sound and the soul of R&B and contemporary jazz.
Of course, the exotic and fairly unique instruments and the masterful handling of them are always a key focus with Hiroshima, as well. There is, naturally, one of leader Dan Kuramoto’s iconic fixtures in the group: his own lovely and most talented wife June who always does such marvelous things with the koto. In a word, the Kuramotos rock.
We are also treated to the unique “throat singing” of one of the percussionists, Shoji Kameda. A word of caution: If you’re not familiar with this form of singing—or more appropriately put, instrumentation, you may get caught by surprise, and the sound may raise an eyebrow, but one must admit that it is this kind of newness, this kind of creativity, and this kind of commitment to give fansmore than their money’s worth on each album that has kept Hiroshima among the elites in the business.
While the entire release is simply another superb demonstration of the group’s adeptness and wholehearted embrace of jazz and other components that make up the band’s signature sound, there are a few (quite a few, actually) faves of mine. There’s the slow, R&B-tinged opening track, “Have You Ever Wondered,” featuring Tetsuya “Tex” Nakamura on harmonica. Working well with June’s koto, this is truly a charmer. There’s also the pristine and silky koto-driven mid-tempo “Koto Cruise,”which is so full of percussion, melody, and drive, building in intensity as it nears its close.
Dan renders a comely version of a bluesy mix on “Blues for Sendai” with the shakuhachi. On that same track, June struts her ever-present koto, and there’s some nice piano work from pianist/keyboardist Kimo Cornwell while bassist Dean Cortez lays down the bottom lightly, steadily, and easily.
“Smiling Jack” picks up the tempo in th good ol jammin’contemporary jazz style. June’s koto and Dan’s sweet sax carry the day here, with Cortez’s bass once again performing splendid rhythm duty, this time with a heavy funk bottom. Also, big kudos to pianist/keyboardist Cornwell here. A real let’sget-at-it jam.
The sweet jazz-filled aura created by the beauty of Dan’s riveting sax work on “See You Again (JaMata Ne Moody)” is just that: riveting.
Then comes the“new”sound, the throat singing of Kameda. A big wow”for a number of reasons. He then hops into a resounding display of percussions and energized shouts. “Moving” and “interesting” just don’t quite cut it as adjectives for this sensational and emotional exhibition. I can only imagine this tune performed live!
As a finale, the group revisits one of their earlier hits from the Another Place album, “One Wish.” This version is a more laid-back, acoustic version featuring the Kuramotos on their respective instruments (sax and koto) and Cornwell on piano. Sweet and appropriate as a finishing touch.
Departure is certainly no departure from the excellent gems Hiroshima has delivered to us over time, and my personal one wish for them (along with their continued success, of course) is for them to continue spoiling us with their magnificently happy charm and ability. – Ronald Jackson