The Hum

Vibrations of the local music scene

The return of ol’ man Dylan

Bob Dylan and his band do two Hawaii concerts on Maui and Oahu

Ten years into what’s been called the Never Ending Tour, Bob Dylan and his band returned to Hawaii after playing what was widely considered a rather lackluster concert at the Waikiki Shell back in 1992.

Returning with a backup band (that is still pretty much intact to this day) led by bassist/musical director Tony Garnier, Dylan played much better in September ‘98 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and then at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Andrews Amphitheatre.

I was fortunate to have witnessed the Maui show as part of the support team for promoter Goldenvoice. I remember standing in the wings with Garnier and company as they happily watched Ledward Ka‘apana open the show. Ka‘apana was the personal pick of the Dylan crew, as the reputation of the slack-key guitarist preceded him. Those guys knew Led was a great musician. I later watched the many Maui fans greet Dylan from his backstage area as he and the band headed for the stage. “We love you, Bob!” was the common sentiment, and he didn’t disappoint that night.

It’s now more than 15 years later. Dylan will turn 73 on May 24, the Never Ending Tour continues to roll on, and he’s back in Hawaii for two shows, one at the MACC on Saturday and the Blaisdell Arena on Tuesday.

Dylan’s famously idiosyncratic voice is even more so with age, but he’s always reinterpreting his incredible repertoire of songs that date back to the mid-1960s. It can be maddening for his longtime fans, because his concerts have an improvisational looseness about them that gives no guarantee of pleasing all who attend. In fact, watching Dylan live is a chancy affair, but when he and the band are sympatico at any given moment on stage, it’s a reminder that you are in the presence of a true American musical legend.

His contemporaries and younger musicians know that. In 2012, the 70-plus track “Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International” was released with reinterpretations of Dylan classics by acts like the late Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Diana Krall, Maroon 5, Kesha, Adele, Flogging Molly, Lenny Kravitz, Queens of the Stone Age, Ziggy Marley and My Morning Jacket, the latter Dylan toured with, along with Wilco, in last summer’s “AmericanaramA” Festival of Music.

Dylan’s music remains marketable as ever. His latest studio album (number 33), “Tempest,” was met with wide acclaim, and his back catalog continues to sell well. One particular piece of marketing brilliance was last year’s clever interactive, channel-surfing video celebrating his 1965 classic “Like a Rolling Stone” that included cameos by rapper Danny Brown, “The Price is Right’s” Drew Carey and the hosts of the hit reality series “Pawn Stars.” Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert celebration was recently given the deluxe treatment and the latest installment of his great “Bootleg Series” draws upon material that reevaluates and gives needed perspective from his widely misunderstood 1969-71 period of his career.

The iconic figure has stayed in the public eye so far this year. During the Super Bowl telecast, his wizened figure and voice was featured in a Chrysler commercial, and the boxing enthusiast posed with Manny Pacquiao at a Los Angeles gym as Pacquiao trained for his comeback fight with Tim Bradley, plus his riveting 1976 protest song about the wrongly imprisoned Ruben “Hurricane” Carter sprang to people’s minds after the boxer’s death days ago on April 20.

Leading up to the Hawaii concerts, I like what avowed Dylan fan Mike Hogan of the Huffington Post wrote after seeing his hero recently on stage. Hogan appreciates that Dylan doesn’t try to recapture the energy he had when he was in his 20s. “Dylan doesn’t indulge that fantasy,” Hogan says. “Sure, he plays the songs he wrote when he was a young man, but he plays them like the old, weird bastard he is today. In other words, despite being an incorrigible trickster as well as one of the most evasive people ever to walk the Earth, Dylan is remarkably honest in these performances. He’s over 70! His voice is fucked up! He’s not even that good at playing guitar, piano, or harmonica! What he’s showcasing is his access to inspiration. It’s sporadic. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen at all.”

Let’s hope Hawaii audiences will get at least several glances of an inspired Bob Dylan.

In the meantime, allow me the indulgence of listing my personal Dylan favorites:

On film – the great 1965 documentary “Don’t Look Back,” 1978’s “Renaldo and Clara” (never-released fantastical road film, I have a VHS tape dubbed bootleg copy), and Todd Haynes’ imaginative tribute “I’m Not Here”

The music:
“Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)
“Blonde on Blonde” (1966)
“Lay Lady Lay” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” from “Nashville Skyline” (1969)
“Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II” (1971), which I won on a radio contest and includes “Watching the River Flow”
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” from “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” OST (1973)
“The Basement Tapes” with The Band (1975)
“Blood on the Tracks” (1975)
“Desire” (1976), containing “Hurricane”
“Hard Rain” (1976)
“Slow Train Coming” (1979)
“Jokerman” and the B-side single “The Groom Still Waiting at the Altar” from “Infidels” (1984)
“Biograph” (1985), one of the first artist box sets ever released
“The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991” (1991)
“Time Out of Mind” (1997)
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The Royal Albert Hall Concert” (1998)
“Things Have Changed” from “Wonder Boys” OST (2000) – Dylan’s been kicking off his concerts of late with this song
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue” (2002)
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack” (2005) for the Martin Scorsese-made documentary
“Tempest” (2012)
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self-Portrait (1969-1971)” (2013)

And even a spruced-up outtake from the 1981 “Shot of Love” album recording sessions, “Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away,” made it onto the “Hawaii Five-0” soundtrack album.

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A Portrait of John Lennon, New York City, 1974, by Bob Gruen

Right place, right time

Hawaii guest Bob Gruen was the greatest photographer in rock music in the 1970s and '80s

I’ve always admired the work of photographers who were there to document nascent scenes in their particular hometowns before the rest of the country and the world caught wind of them. And if that “hometown” is New York City, Bob Gruen must count himself as the luckiest man to have been there, on the scene, during the 1970s and ‘80s.

Thanks to Hawaii Pacific University and the Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Showcase, there was a free public screening of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen,” complete with a still-youthful 68-year-old Gruen as a guest. Since the simultaneous release back in 2011 of the documentary and his collected retrospective of his work in book form, “Rock Seen,” Gruen has been doing the occasional “victory lap” in various locations with gallery exhibitions and the rare theatrical showings of the film, originally made for Showtime.

What I particularly liked about the documentary, besides seeing the breadth of the man’s work — from the soul-shakin’ Ike and Tina Turner through pop-punksters Green Day — was the validation of a true photojournalist’s work ethic, particularly when it comes to taking pictures of artists one admires: Take a genuine interest in them, treat them with friendly respect, make yourself unobtrusive, and stay alert for “the money shot” (no autodrive click-click-click here). With that in mind, who knows, you may be taken into the private confidence of, say, someone like John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Gruen cemented his reputation and importance in rock music history because of his access to the famous couple during the early ‘70s. But he never exploited his friendship as the personal photographer for John and Yoko. It was a mutually advantageous relationship between Gruen and the former Beatle and his artist wife. And because Gruen could move easily within the culture’s inner circles, he also made his name through concert, backstage and after-hours photos of bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

While the baby-boomers in the audience sat in rapt reverence during the film’s segment on Lennon and Ono, I was particularly thrilled with seeing and understanding how Gruen’s photography helped cross-fertilize the punk scenes first in the Big Apple’s gritty downtown and then “across the pond” to London. The Ramones begat The Sex Pistols, due to Gruen’s working relationship with Lisa Robinson and their Rock Scene magazine. The New York Dolls and The Clash also have a lot to thank Gruen in making them rock icons.

Gruen admits he’s no great technician when it comes to his photography, but at his height, he captured the mood and emotion of a time when rock music was at its most hedonistic and flamboyantly visual. It’s only over the last several years that Gruen has felt his work has been vindicated and that “I was right” in documenting a music scene that originally flew under the radar.

“He’s a good voyeur,” quips Blondie’s Debbie Harry in the film.

And while it’s understandable that he and his wife are spending more time archiving his work these days, he still occasionally checks out the new acts. His band of the moment is the exciting Irish rock ‘n’ roll teen band the Strypes. For Gruen, it’s always the creative energy that matters.

Needless to say, you should check out the man’s website. And Bob, thanks for the memories.

Anne Akiko Meyers / Photo Courtesy Molina Visuals

The right musician for a valuable violin

Anne Akiko Meyers and her historical instrument will be the guests of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.

The year 1741 has a special significance for Anne Akiko Meyers. It both signifies a birth and death that the world-class violinist is inextricably tied to at this time in her internationally celebrated career in classical music.

It was the year a finely crafted violin was constructed by Italian luthier Giuseppe Guarneri. Its vaunted reputation as a superbly made instrument was then made by its 19th century owner, Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps. The maker’s and original owner’s names have become synonymous with this violin, called the Vieuxtemps Guarneri. Known for its rich and enormous tone due to its sturdy construction, it is considered the finest violin ever made.

Over its 273-year existence, the well-preserved violin has been played by such legendary masters as the late Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. Before 2012, it’s been mostly stored, of all places, under a bed for half a century. Luckily, its new owner (a Londoner who remains anonymous) paid more that $16 million, and instead of the precious violin being ignominiously stashed away, the owner has instead loaned it to Meyers to use.

And we’re all the richer for it. Honolulu audiences will be able to experience Meyers and the violin in concert when she appears as a special guest with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Junichi Hirokami, on April 5 and 6. Meyers and the orchestra will perform Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, as part of a program that will include works by Khachaturian and Strauss.

The violin has already made a number of public appearances, the widest being in its commercial recording debut with the English Chamber Orchestra. Meyers’ latest album features the compositions of Antonio Vivaldi — who died in 1741 — and features the always popular Four Seasons, as well as his Triple Concerto, where Meyers performs all three solo parts.

She said by phone that “great care is taken with the Vieuxtemps, and with strict security measures. I’ve played all kinds of violins since I was 11, but it’s a honor to play this particular instrument for the rest of my life.

“Every violin needs special care, taking into consideration traveling with an antique instrument, the daily wear-and-tear of playing it, changes in airplane air pressure and climate,” she said. “I’ve had the Vieuxtemps for a year-and-a-half now, and it’s an extraordinary instrument in its history and provenance. The condition of the violin is like none other. It has a definitive range of color, depth and diminuendo of sound. I love to perform with it. It helps greatly in the expressivity of the music and it speaks to me as an artist.

“It’s essentially my heart and voice, with a wide palette of color at my disposal.”

Meyers and her Vieuxtemps Guaneri will be put to the test with the Prokofiev piece she’ll be performing with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. “It was his second piece (in G minor, Op. 63), and it’s really, incredibly difficult to play, with all these technical changes. It premiered in Madrid in 1935 and it’s very coloristic, very Spanish, evoking the lively play of castanets in the third and last movement.”

Although Meyers said she enjoys doing the occasional “diverse, off-the-grid project, playing with the likes of Il Divo, Chris Botti and Wynton Marsalis,” she looks forward to working with contemporary composers like Mason Bates of San Francisco. She’s already performed his Violin Concerto with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (click here for video) and she’ll reprise it with Slatkin, this time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, next month, right after her time in the islands.

Meyers and Slatkin, with the London Symphony Orchestra, will record Bates’ composition as part of her next album, which will also include the Barber Violin Concerto and John Corigliano’s “Lullaby for Natalie,” written expressly for Meyers in honor of then-new baby daughter.

“When the opportunity arose, I was so excited to record a new concerto, and I wanted it to be Mason’s. Also, with the Barber concerto, I recorded that on my debut album when I was 18, so it’ll be nice to come a full 360 degrees with it.”

Go to hawaiisymphonyorchestra.org for more information.

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douglas lora and joão luiz of the brasil guitar duo. photo courtesy andrea johnson

A wondrous melding of classical and Brazilian music

The Brasil Guitar Duo bring their exciting fusion to Honolulu

João Luiz and Douglas Lora of the Brasil Guitar Duo had already been playing together for 17 years before reaching wider acclaim, thanks to the U.S. distribution of their 2007 album, “Bom Partido.” Since then, they’ve continued to build on their reputation as an excellent and sympathetic pairing, one that presents classical and contemporary material that draws upon the signature legacies of Europe and the sounds and rhythms from the Northeast of their South American home country.

Lora and his girlfriend had already enjoyed several days of vacation on Oahu when I spoke with him before Saturday’s concert, to be presented by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Outreach College.

“João and I started very young when we met as teenagers in São Paulo,” Lora said. “But to be classical musicians in Brazil, it’s not very easy.” What did help propel their career as a duo was being one of the international winners of the prestigious Concert Artists Guild Victor Emaleh Competition in New York City back in ‘06.

“The winners received management, which we thought was better than a cash prize,” he said. “After that, the world opened up for us — the U.S., Asia, Europe. No longer were we in an apartment practicing, performing only once a month.”

Their concerts are divided into two parts: the first concentrating on the classical guitar repertoire (with the works of Jean Philip Rameau and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco particular favorites) and the second on more contemporary Brazilian material, like from the great composer-player Egberto Gismonti.

“We don’t write together,” Lora said of himself and Luiz. “We each have our different styles. Since the beginning, João has done the arranging and conscriptions, and with me, the compositions. The repertoire for two guitars is not very big, so we had to work on that, and do our own thing.” Drawing inspiration from fellow Brazilian guitarists Sergio and Eduardo Abreu, Lora said the Brasil Guitar Duo looks to write and expand their own range of material. One of their more recent critically acclaimed recording was the rearranging of Bach’s sonatas for flute and harpsichord for themselves and flutist Marina Piccinini. Lora said the duo has two exciting recording projects on tap for this year, but mum’s the word.

As to whether he and Luiz may reach a level of international classical stardom, Lora said “we have no expectations. We do our best. I guess the philosophy we go by is along the lines of the English word ‘meritocracy.’ Our ability and talent shows that we do our job well, and for that, we will be recognized. It helps make us play better and study more.

“It’s an endless process. The guideline is to do the best you can, and to play very accessible music that will bring our approach to classical guitar to a wider audience. The generous response we receive continues to surprise me.”

Tickets are now on sale for the Saturday, March 8, 7:30 p.m. concert at Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Cost is $10-$35, available online at etickethawaii.com or by phone at 944-2697. To watch some of their performances on YouTube, click here.

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Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i School of Music students John Marzan and Jessica Sayno rehearsing. Photo by Gary Chun

Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i is about music, too

Street art event's affiliated music school helps talented teens

Building off the initial success of last year’s debut, the Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i School of Music has been in full gear since two weeks ago. It will culminate in the performances of 4 bands made up of talented teenagers playing original material at tomorrow night’s big block party in Kaka‘ako.

“We’ve got more students this year,” said Andy Song, director of marketing at Flexfit, the school’s sponsor. “Admittedly, it was a little tough last year, but we have more people helping us.” One of last year’s students even returned this year to be an assistant.

Of the 16 students handpicked to participate in the school, 5 of them are repeats. A sense of camaraderie was built by last year’s class, so much so that the teens were doing monthly gigs leading up to this year’s new class, playing events like birthdays and fundraisers, and getting together for jam sessions.

“The program is twice as long this year,” Song said, “and the daily curriculum was changed a bit that would involve more teaching.” “In the first week, we gave them the tools,” added teacher Nick Kaleikini (who brought in his famous singing grandfather Danny to speak with the class), “and this second week leading up to Saturday has concentrated on rehearsals.” Returning teachers include Curtis and Annie Kamiya of the duo Mango Season.

Bringing in guest musicians to teach and talk — like DJ Compose, MC Big Mox, Los Angeles’ Aska Matsumiya and Paz Lenchantin (bassist for A Perfect Circle and now with the Pixies) and Hisham Dahud of San Francisco last year, and Paula Fuga, Anton Glamb and, from New York, James Patterson of the Knocks — bring what Song said is “their own unique angles of being artists.

“The goal of the school is to be year-round. Obviously, we’re still taking baby steps, but we are gearing towards realizing the bigger picture.”

Song and Kaleikini admit their surprise at finding out some of the musical influences of their young charges — not so much EDM and hip-hop, but older musics, like classic 1970s-‘80s rock and R&B.

“What I like with the new curriculum is that the kids are producing material a lot quicker,” said Kaleikini. “They don’t feel restricted to simple, specific structures.”

“The vision of Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i involves art, music and culture,” Song said, “and I’m glad we’ve included music education.”

Just outside of the Lana Lane Studios recording studio, a couple of students who make up their school band “Cinema Kids” are working out one of their tunes. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Sayno of Moanalua and 18-year-old John Marzan of Farrington are enthusiastic about how the school is shaping them as artists.

“This is different from most schools,” Jessica said. “Here, we’re put in a creative environment, where we learn that music is more than just notes and scales. The adult teachers take us seriously and we’re not treated as just teens.”

“The school is deeper than just music,” added Marzan. “It helps bring out the best in you. Even though there’s a range of ages between us, the one thing that links us together is a passion to express ourselves as best as possible.”

“John and I clicked together easily when we auditioned to come to the school,” said Jessica, who is a returnee. “There are a lot of different musical tastes among the students, and they can sometimes clash,” added Marzan. “But when we find a common ground, that’s when we have …,” and both he and Jessica say on cue with a laugh, “a music-gasm!”

You can catch the music school’s student performances, as well as Anton Glamb + 1, Alt/Air, Paula Fuga, and The Green, plus other special collaborations, at the Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i finale and night market from 6-midnight Saturday along Auahi Street in Kaka‘ako.

photo courtesy Punahele Dalde/BAMP Project

The National conquers Hawaii

The popular indie band makes its case at The Republik

Matt Berninger of The National wanted to make sure he drove his point home to Friday’s audience at The Republik, so much so that he did it twice in a row, a rare gesture while on tour.

The band’s road crew were at the ready, waiting for the professorial-looking frontman to make his move during the encore and, true to form, Berninger went out into the elated crowd while still singing “Mr. November.” So point taken, everyone’s happy … still …

When the band next got to its most rousing rock song “Terrible Love,” before you know it, there’s Berninger standing on top of the security barricade. His mic stand — slightly bent from his putting all of his weight while crouching over it through much of the concert, grasping the mic in both hands — was offered up to eager hands. And, whoa!, there he went, to be swallowed once more into the roiling sea of fans.

By then, everyone was a fan of The National. While not everyone may have known the words to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” a quiet, acoustic number to end the evening on a gentler note, there were enough of the true-blue to sing along with Berninger, sans microphone and not the worst of wear.

It was obvious from the get-go that The National wanted to find out more about what it was like to play Hawaii for the first time. With the islands a stopover before heading for a tour of New Zealand, Australia and the Far East, the guys gauged the mood of the crowd, found it eager and good, and proceeded to deliver a great evening of music, peppered here and there with fan favorites rarely played to their already established audiences. It was The National 101 for close to two hours, and at the end, we all passed.

As exemplified by their studio albums, starting with 2007’s “Boxer” that established the band’s present identity, “High Violet” from ‘10, and last year’s luxurious Grammy nominee “Trouble Will Find Me,” The National specializes in the dark and introspective. The band delivered that with its first three songs “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” “I Should Live in Salt” and “Sorrow,” a song they played for six straight hours back in May as part of New York’s Museum of Modern Art PS1’s Sunday Sessions.

Now with everyone primed and ready, the band pulled off a near glorious rendition of “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” And it’s quite a band. Twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner play off each other, with brother Aaron taking most of the solos with ringing atmospherics. With Scott Devendorf on paternal leave for this tour, guest and fellow Brooklynite Logan Coale ably filled in on bass.

Special kudos should be offered up, first, to Scott’s brother Bryan. The man’s an absolute gem of a drummer. Precise without being fussy, possessing a light but firm touch on the sticks, Devendorf confidently drives the band while serving the songs’ purpose. And while they’re “just” sidemen, Ben Lanz and Kyle Reznick filled out the sound on keyboards, percussion, background vocals and, more importantly, trombone and trumpet, adding both keen and sonorous textures to the musical proceedings. Bravo to all!

Even though this New York-via-Cincinnati band has a fine art-minded, indie rock pedigree, The National has occasionally jumped into the mainstream pop culture pool. Three consecutive songs were evidence: “I Need My Girl” and “This is the Last Time” appeared, along with the band, in a recent episode of the Fox sitcom “The Mindy Project,” and “Lean” was part of the soundtrack to what Berninger jokingly called “Transformers 6,” otherwise known as “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” The singer ruefully mentioned it’s the one song the band should’ve kept for itself. “Lean” certainly sounded better in concert.

Some of the aforementioned rareties the band played included “Apartment Story,” an insular-feeling song that Bryce Dessner introduced as something more appropriate for “an East Coast winter” than the tropics; the slyly humorous heartbreaker “Pink Rabbits” from “Trouble”; “About Today,” one of its notable songs from early in its career; and, leading off the encore, the band’s cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” which admittedly threw me for a loop.

After this successful “audition,” here’s hoping The National will make a return visit.

Setlist: Don’t Swallow the Cap / I Should Live in Salt / Sorrow / Bloodbuzz Ohio / Demons / Sea of Love / Hard to Find / Afraid of Everyone / Squalor Victoria / I Need My Girl / This is the Last Time / Lean / Abel / Slow Show / Apartment Story / Pink Rabbits / England / Graceless / About Today / Fake Empire / Encore: Teardrop (segueing into something else?) / Mr. November / Terrible Love / Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

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Kahulanui (clockwise, from top): Duke Tatom, Tim Taylor, Lolena Naipo and Pat Eskildsen. Photo courtesy Michael Cromwell

Kahulanui swings into the Grammys

Retro-styled Big Island band take advantage of award ceremony with a mini-tour of the West Coast

Kahulanui was just about to take the stage at a special event at the Four Seasons Resort Hawaii at Hualalai, when bass player Pat Eskildsen got the call from producer Charles Brotman that, yes, the band was nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Regional Roots Album category for its 2012 debut “Hula Ku‘i.”

After the cheering subsided, leader Lolena Naipo remembers thinking, “Oh, no! My job has just started.”

Naipo took on the responsibility to get the entire nine-piece band to Sunday’s Grammy ceremonies (and subsequent mini-West Coast tour, its first mainland jaunt), so with the help of supporters, CDs were sold and a fundraiser was organized, and enough funds were raised to make the trip a reality.

It’s Naipo’s baritone voice that carries the band through its Hawaiian swing-influenced repertoire that has made it a favorite on Hawai‘i island over the last couple of years. A professional musician over the last three decades, Naipo is part of a long family line that began with his grandfather Robert Naipo, who played with the Royal Hawaiian Band. Naipo took the elder’s middle name to start a new phase in his music. In fact, the two lead tracks on the album, “Ku‘u Home I Waimanalo” and “Na Papa Ne‘e Nalu,” originate from sheet music Naipo found in his grandfather’s belongings.

Naipo and Eskildsen have gigged together as a duo for near 15 years, and it was at one of their earlier gigs years ago — playing more contemporary material — that Brotman first heard them. Brotman was willing to offer them some recording time in his Lava Tracks studio, the place where a couple of Grammy nominated and award-winning music have been recorded.

After Naipo finally took up Brotman’s offer starting in December of ‘11, Brotman said “one day, I heard Lena messing around with some old-style music, and together, we decided it was worthwhile doing this instead of the more contemporary stuff. But it was so different, we were wondering how Pat and the rest of the band would react to it. Besides, down the line, we could always do the contemporary songs if doing the swing music didn’t pan out. But the swing music was working, so we recorded and released the album. The label push got us some Na Hoku Hanohano nominations last year and it created a buzz among the musicians who saw us play at the ceremony.”

“It was always Lena’s idea to bring back that swinging big-band sound of the 1920s-‘40s,” said Eskildsen. What became Kahulanui — with the “core four” of Naipo, Eskildsen, Duke Tatom and Tim Taylor — was augmented with a four-piece horn section led by arranger Jesse Snyder and a guest steel guitarist, whether it be Paul Kim, Greg Sardinha, or Dwight Tokumoto, the latter of whom is accompanying the band on its Grammy trip to Los Angeles.

“When I decided to play more in the swing genre in the studio, I thought the change of band name from Hawaiians Unlimited to Kahulanui had to happen as well,” said Naipo. “It was a totally different mindset.

“I remember my grandfather as a grouchy old buggah,” he said with a laugh. “When the family was on Oahu, he and my grandmother would babysit us kids after school. Actually, the only time I saw him do music was when I was around 5-6 years old, he would play the ukulele when he got bored. I was the kolohe one, so I would hide behind a chair and mimic the way he played and sang.

“If he were around now and saw what I’m doing because of him, he would be freaking out!”

Naipo has taken his father’s advice to heart, which is to create something his very own. Even though the music of Kahulanui sounds very much like the heyday of local swing legends like Alvin Isaacs, Sam Koki and Ray Kinney, “it would be music of that time, but with a twist. A younger copy, but trying to be better. And the music sounds so beautiful.”

The album “Hula Ku‘i” has made for a more effective “calling card” for Naipo and company than the originally planned one for the then-Hawaiians Unlimited to sell at their gigs.

“I like to bend the rules,” Naipo said. “Everything is exciting and new, and everyone in the band is playing like energized bunnies.” After the Grammys on Sunday, Kahulanui will do upwards of four dates on the mainland, with sponsorship help from OluKai footwear, who’s headquarters are now based in L.A.

“I’m happy to say that we’re all going to the Grammys,” he said. “It feels frickin’ great!”

Visit kahulanui.com to find out the band’s tour schedule and the days and times for its regular gigs at various venues on the Big Island. “Hula Ku‘i” is available at palmrecords.com and on iTunes.

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Erika Elona at her album celebration concert at the Republik, backed by her manager and bassist Brandon Apeles. Photo by Gary Chun

Erika Elona comes in loud and clear

Her debut album "Things to Break" showcases a very promising folk-soul singer-songwriter

When Erika Elona was 5 years old, her mother Eileen remembers her daughter loving to sing karaoke so much, she wouldn’t share the mic with anyone else. A couple of years later, it would be the sound of Jewel’s voice singing her breakout hit “Who Would Save Your Soul” that would leave an indelible impression on the youngster’s developing musical spirit.

So it’s no surprise that Elona and her band would make the song a “hana hou” at the Republik at her album celebration concert in early January in anticipation of the February release of her debut, “Things to Break.”

Always growing as an artist since her first gig at Kaimuki’s Coffee Talk at age 15, the 25-year-old Elona is one of Hawaii’s brightest and burgeoning talents. A confident performer that always delivers, her previous recorded efforts were the songs “Easier” and “Smoke Signals,” the latter found on the Mountain Apple Company’s “Alternative HI” compilation.

As an appetizer, “Things to Break’s” leadoff single, the emotionally powerful “Anchor,” is already available on iTunes and is easily one of the strongest tracks from the album. It’s also a favorite of momma Eileen, who also included other of the album’s songs “Tangled String,” “Amherst” and “Daisy Chain.”

After her daughter heard the Jewel song, her husband would later give her 2nd-grade aged daughter a spare guitar and photo copies of songbooks by such popular artists of the 1970s as Bread, America and Elton John.

Standing behind the merchandise area at the Republik the night of her daughter’s concert, Mom was in good spirits, taking in all that’s happened to her daughter. “When I saw the first copy of the CD, I was so happy. I’m amazed that she’s put this all together.”

Well, it also helps to have music veterans like manager Brandon Apeles and producer Shawn Livingston Moseley for support. Elona’s album was in the planning stages back in early 2012, and with the steady help of Sing the Body drummer Elijah Oguma and underrated guitarist Neal Chin, plus select guests, the resulting “Things to Break” makes for a great calling card for Erika Elona.

“This whole experience has been better than I expected,” Apeles said. “I never imagined that the album would turn out as great as it is.”

The perseverant Elona also has to thank the 77 backers who helped her succeed in her Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to press CD copies of the album. (Full disclosure: I kicked in 15 bucks to get a digital download due in February.) For some of her more charitable backers, they’ll receive a bag that will not only include the CD, but stickers, handsigned photo and art prints, and other arts-and-crafts-y knick-knacks for that personal touch, thanks to Mom’s help and a nearby Ben Franklin store.

“Some of my donors came from as far away as Finland, the U.K. and Brazil,” Elona said before the show, “and one was particularly generous. He gave $1,500 after seeing me open for Matchbox Twenty at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. He also sent me a wonderful email, saying that he liked my energy and the humility that he saw from me on stage that night, so he’ll be getting a private solo acoustic show for him and his friends at some agreed-upon venue.”

Wearing a daisy-crafted haku lei at her showcase concert, Elona kept her nerves and anxiety in check fought and was in fine voice. And she’s always one to clearly enunciates her lyrics, never leaving the audience to wonder about the intent of her music. Something I find relatively rare these days, I think that’s one of the strong points that makes Elona so appealing as a singer.

Near the end, Elona made it a point to tell the audience that “every day, be creative, make shit for yourself,” something to make you specifically happy. Now that’s a good philosophy to live by.

Visit her Facebook page at erikaelonamusic.

"Silence Yourself" by Savages was one of the top albums of the year. Courtesy Matador Records

17 (or is it 20?) and counting

Doing the annual Village Voice rock critics poll reveals favorite music of 2013

At the end of every year, it’s a tradition for myself and Hawai‘i magazine editor Derek Paiva to put in our two-cents’ worth in the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop rock critics poll. Around 1,500 music writers are invited to participate every year, and Derek and I have been longtime participants, dating back to our time when we both wrote for the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin, respectively.

For me, I think this is at least my 17th of the 41 years the New York City alternative newsweekly has done the poll (although I swear I think I’ve done somewhere around 20 … ah, aging).

The poll breaks down to 20 total choices: 10 albums and 10 singles (or individual songs). Albums can include collections or reissues. Because there’s usually enough new music to fill out my album picks, I usually do a separate best-reissues list, like what I’ve done here.

This year, in particular, with my inclusion of Nirvana’s last studio album, originally released two decades ago, it pretty much marks the end of fresh, relevant music for me while growing up as an active listener. The 1990s are my demarcation point. I think pretty much all popular rock music of that decade and music made before it are reference points for what has come since the Aughts.

OK, enough talk, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2013:

“The Terror” The Flaming Lips (Warner Bros.) — It may be a cliché, but it took a breakup of a long relationship and a drug addiction relapse to make Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd and Co. go to the dark side and create one of their better albums.
“New History Warfare 3: To See More Light” Colin Stetson (Constellation) — The multi-saxophonist (who did a solo gig at the Honolulu Museum of Art in late June) put out some of the most visceral music I’ve ever experienced. At times difficult, this album is just overwhelming and profoundly moving.
“Modern Vampires of the City” Vampire Weekend (XL Recordings) — This caught me by surprise. VW always struck me as a clever band, but “Modern Vampires of the City” has an emotional heft that shows welcome maturity.
“Trouble Will Find Me” The National (4AD) — The indie Ohio band broke into the mainstream with this album, which has since become a Grammy nominee for Best Alternative Album. Its richly melancholic music will be on full display at Honolulu’s The Republik on Jan. 31.
“Silence Yourself” Savages (Matador) and “Like Clockwork” Queens of the Stone Age (Matador) — I like to consider these two albums the yin-and-yang of gender expression. Savages works from an anger that definitely reflects the female experience, which makes for riveting listening. And Josh Homme and his guys make the most sinuous and sexiest rock that is masculine in a good way.
“Yeezus” Kanye West (Def Jam) — An automatic choice on everyone’s list. It isn’t perfect, but when it’s good, it’s damn near untouchable. Stripped down, it’s everything that Kanye is, warts and all.
“Doris” Earl Sweatshirt (Columbia) — We got a little taste of it when Odd Future played here last month. Earl’s debut is filled with the dazzling wordplay we come to expect, but with impactful writing that deftly spells out a past troubled life.
“Purgatory/Paradise” Throwing Muses (Harper/Collins, It Books) — While we welcomed new albums from revitalized acts such as My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie and Paul McCartney this year, there’s one veteran whose flown under the radar since 1980, and that’s Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses. She may not have the fanbase as the aforementioned, but if you’ve taken care to follow her solo and side projects, Hersh is still a pertinent triple threat: a great singer, always a surprising writer and a terrific guitar player. Her band’s back together and I love the presentation of this album in book form.
“Sex Hormone’d Druggie” MaryGold (Jet Life) — Yes, we’ve been dazzled by the unexpected release of Beyoncé‘s new album, so sexy and stuff, but I put it to you that it relatively pales to the stoned eroticism put forth by this singular New Orleans rapper. The explicit mixtape just dropped this month on DatPiff.com, and the free-spirited MaryGold should garner more attention in ‘14.

Favorite songs of ‘13:

“Ohm” Yo La Tengo (Matador)
“Treasure” Bruno Mars (Atlantic)
“The Wire” HAIM (Columbia)
“Bring the Noize” M.I.A. (Interscope)
“Royals” Lorde (Lava/Republic)
“Get Lucky” Daft Punk feat. Pharrell & Nile Rodgers (Columbia)
“The Mother We Share” Chvrches (Glassnote)
“Dip” Danny Brown (Fool’s Gold)
“Control” Big Sean feat. Jay Electronica & Kendrick Lamar (Def Jam)
“Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy)” David Bowie (Columbia)

Favorite reissues of ‘13:

“Live in 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2”
Miles Davis Quintet (Columbia)
“Elvis at Stax: Deluxe Edition” Elvis Presley (RCA)
“The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection” Otis Redding (Shout! Factory)
“Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10” Bob Dylan (Columbia)
“Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective” (Rounder)
“In Utero: 20th Anniversary Edition” Nirvana (Geffen)

Wishing you and yours the best of the holidays and a meaningful 2014.

“What’s good … Life’s good … But not fair at all.”

The seductive appeal of the Devialet audio system. Courtesy Devialet

An audiophile Christmas

High-end suggestions from Audio Lab Hawaii

Ah, Christmas, the season for giving and receiving. And if you’re as much of an enthusiast for quality sound as I am, let the music flow through the following suggestions from Tom Choy, owner of Audio Lab Hawaii in Kaka‘ako.

Speaking of enthusiasm, Choy had glowing endorsements for several products his store carries, particularly if you’re looking for a good pair of headphones, a turntable and what he says is the current state of the streaming digital home audio system that equals in fidelity the standard tube-and-cables analog-based setup.

With the popular advent of ear and headphones to use with mobile phones and tablets, Choy likes what U.S. maker Beyerdynamic has to offer, particularly with the DT 880 model. The semi-open stereo headphones promise to deliver a dynamic and balanced sound range and comes with a gold-plated mini-stereo jack, and adapter. It retails for $365, but if that’s a bit pricey for your Christmas budget, take a look at Beyerdynamics’ range of earphones (aka earbuds). Just introduced this year, the top-line DX 120 IE and 160IE models both come with silicone ear tips in five different sizes to guarantee the perfect fit for optimal listening pleasure.

“We’re slowing building up our headphones line,” said Choy, “and plan to reintroduce such popular brands as Grado, STAX and Sennheiser.”

“Celebrating 40 years of great British hi-fi,” Rega Research Limited is especially proud of its elegantly designed turntables. Of the 6 offered by Rega, Choy thinks the “sweet spot” can be found with the RP3 model, complete with a hand-assembled tonearm and solid motor assembly. “With the renewed interest in vinyl records, I think Rega turntables offer the purest approach in analog sound,” he said. “And our store offers turntable tuneups as well.”

The Rega RP3 turntable retails for a hefty $895, but Choy says the entry-level RP1 is a fine product as well and in the price range of $445.

Another audiophile development from France that Choy is excited about is the Devialet high-performance wireless audio system, offered in three models, either 110, 170 or 240 watts per channel. It’s a system that Choy is proud to show off to customers, as it streams high-quality music from his iPad. And if you’re still a stickler for using a turntable or CD player in your system, Choy says Devialet allows for those connections, as well.

The patented ADH (analog digital hybrid) system delivers high-resolution transmission for the current set of listeners more familiar with digital delivery of music.

It makes for quite an investment, and Choy and staffer Jim Williams offer top-notch and well-considered consultation and proper calibration for its optimum use (as well as other personally tailored systems) of your home listening space.

You can find Audio Lab Hawaii online at audiolabhawaii.com, phone 808-595-8066, and located at 851 Pohukaina St., Unit C-12, with the store’s entrance at the corner of Auahi and Kamani Streets, next to Bank of Hawaii.

Social media image - facebook - koniakowski image - 2nd annual jake and friends concert 2013

The 2nd Annual Jake Shimabukuro & Friends Concert

We're looking forward to this show tomorrow night! Jake Shimabukuro, his ukulele and special guests on the grand stage at the Blaisdell. So, much talent and aloha. Last year's 1st Annual Jake & Friends Concert was magic.

(Sponsored Post)

When Jake Shimabukuro stepped on stage at last year’s 1st Annual Jake Shimabukuro and Friends Concert, the sold out crowd at the Hawai‘i Theatre was on the edge of its seats. Few knew what to expect. It was the first time Jake had the opportunity to showcase a full-length performance in Hawai‘i with his national production crew at his side (i.e. with his full arsenal of sound & lighting gear).The night also served as the Honolulu native’s first big hometown gala – a celebration of his 15+ year career and the ohana who helped Jake take the ukulele to heights never before seen. Electricity filled the air as everyone anxiously awaited seeing how all would unfold. Nearly two hours later, the final notes rang out from Jake’s ukulele and a joyous standing ovation ensued. The night, dubbed “superb” by the Star-Advertiser, was an unfettered success and a new tradition was born.

This year, Jake builds on that foundation hosting his 2nd Annual Jake Shimabukuro and Friends Concert at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Saturday, November 30th. Just like 2012, the show takes place two days after Thanksgiving making it a wonderful start to the holiday season. The focus of the performance remains the same as well – a night of intimate music and storytelling celebrating Jake’s music, ohana and beloved hometown of Honolulu. It’s a rare opportunity for local residents and visitors alike to watch Jake perform in a premiere concert setting here in the islands and gain deeper insight into the man behind the music.

The nature of the night’s musical production is special as well. While most artists expand the size of their bands to fill large concert halls with sound, Jake takes the opposite approach. He plays completely solo with only his ukulele in his hands – no distractions – all attention on the master and his music. The result is powerful, almost meditative. Large venues transform into seemingly intimate studios with every nuance of Jake’s virtuoso playing fully illuminated and directly connecting with each person in the audience. It’s a magical ride through blues, jazz, Hawaiian, rock, and more with Jake’s irrepressible positive spirit beaming through each note and lifting all hearts.

Helping Jake tell the story of his award-winning career and give a peek into its future will be a few yet to be announced musical guests. Last year, local artists and friends, Paula Fuga and Bruce Shimabukuro (Jake’s brother & a fine ukulele player in his own right), joined the performance giving Jake a chance to demonstrate he is equally adept at backing other artists as he is at playing the lead role. The upper registry sounds of Jake’s ukulele beautifully complimented Fuga’s grand voice, and the dueling ukuleles and contrasting stage personas on display during Jake and Bruce’s collaboration left many wanting to see the brothers join forces more often in the future. Look for an announcement about this year’s special guests shortly before the November 30th show.

Like 2012, this year’s Jake and Friends Concert serves as a holiday respite for Jake. He has spent a large part of this year sharing his music and aloha with people around the country and world playing 130+ shows on the US mainland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Along the way, Jake squeezed in time to make an appearance on the Today Show, as well as several other national programs, and had the pleasure of witnessing the nationwide PBS broadcast of ‘Life on Four Strings,’ the up close and personal documentary about Jake and his music. The 2nd Annual Jake Shimabukuro & Friends Concert is the last show on Jake’s 2013 tour calendar giving him an opportunity to enjoy some holiday downtime here at home with his wife, son and family.

“I was blown away by the response to last year’s 1st Annual Jake & Friends celebration – the full house, the electric vibe and all the aloha shared by friends, family and fans,” states Jake. “Nothing makes me happier than performing at home, and this show is truly special for me – surrounded by my ohana, fans who’ve been with me since the beginning and joined by some of my favorite artists. I can’t wait to build on this new tradition and conclude my 2013 touring schedule center stage at the Blaisdell Concert Hall!”

Tickets are available here.

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Ledward Ka‘apana plays with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Photo by Gary Chun

Los Lobos thrives in Honolulu club setting

The band tears through an impromptu show to kick off its interisland tour.

Thursday night at the Crossroads showroom at Hawaiian Brian’s, the world-class Los Lobos was the greatest bar band playing in Honolulu.

Kicking off an interisland leg of their 40th anniversary tour, the Wolves from East Los Angeles showed that they’ve been around the block and then some, so much so that they didn’t even bother playing off of a setlist. Sure, they had to perform some of their concert staples, like the gorgeous “Little John of God” and “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” the poignant “One Time One Night,” the swinging “Let’s Say Goodnight,” and, of course, their breakout cover of “La Bamba,” which also included an inspired bit of the Young Rascals’ classic raver “Good Lovin’.”

Other that, the guys pretty much kept things loose and impromptu. The frontline of César Rosas and David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin, and the monster rhythm section of Conrad Lozano and Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez gave Oahu’s baby boomers an inspired evening of blues, rock and Mexican roots music. (Fellow founding member Louie Pérez did not make the trip to Hawaii, having to deal with a major house move back in L.A.)

As an added bonus, Hidalgo invited slack-key master Ledward Ka‘apana to sit in on a couple songs — the aforementioned “One Night,” adding to the dream-like intro of the song on a ringing electric guitar of Hidalgo’s, and a spur-of-the-moment cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me to Do,” which Led soloed through with blues-rock confident licks.

One fan shouted for, and got, an inspired run-through of “Farmer John,” the 1964 R’n'R hit by The Premiers and the first for a Chicano band that went nationwide. The show was sprinkled with Spanish-language songs, including the hip-swaying cumbia “Yo Canto.” By night’s end, an elated, if spent, audience called for a “hana hou,” and received two encores, first the aforementioned “La Bamba,” and then with Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” nicely segueing into a song that they’ve made their own, “Bertha,” originally done by The Grateful Dead.

Having seen the band a number of times over the decades, Los Lobos struck me that, when given the situation offered Thursday night, in a more casual club setting, they’re at their best. The band’s interplay is that much more spontaneous. Berlin colors the music with punctuations of tenor and baritone sax, Lozano and particularly the younger Enriquez absolutely kills it rhythmically, and the singing and guitar work of Rosas and Hidalgo are absolutely phenomenal. Rosas personifies rock ‘n’ roll soul ‘n’ grit. Hidalgo, casual and unassuming on stage, is truly a guitar god. His clear and concise soloing had me frequently shaking my head in awe and wonderment. And he plays a mean button accordion, too.

If the band approximates this amount of energy for the rest of this part of the tour, audiences on Maui, the Big Island and Kaua‘i are in for a memorable treat.

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Tyler, the Creator, and Odd Future on stage. Photo courtesy Ben Crippen/BAMP Project

Hawaii’s Hip-Hop Heads Love Odd Future

To see the evolution of rap music in action, look no further than Odd Future. The young and effusive collective from Los Angeles is true D.I.Y., version 2.0, hip-hop for the kids.

The traveling circus that is, to use its full name, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, settled into The Republik last Saturday night, and fans were treated to a dizzying night of versifying and general tomfoolery.

While Tyler, the Creator, and Earl Sweatshirt are the lead attractions of OFWGKTA, the rest of the bunch — Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, Mike G, Left Brain and DJ Taco — were given their fair share of the spotlight. (Curiously, the group’s one lone female talent, singer-producer Syd the Kyd, who was traveling with them, chose to sit this one out, letting the boys have their raucous fun. Better to check out the project she shares with Matt Martians called The Internet.)

Saturday’s show included a generous portion of stuff from both Odd Future and solo projects from each of the guys.

After some warmup by DJ Taco and a rather unfocused opening (including Hodgy coming on stage doing cartwheels), the guys got down to business. What usually has a little more subtlety and atmosphere in the studio is bumped up several levels in terms of energy in a live setting. Idiosyncratic, stream-of-consciousness spits like Earl’s “Blade,” and an inspired verse “Who that, oh, that new coon John Cusack/A Mecca button-up, shoutin’ bring Fubu back/Hands full of coke, mouthful of crack mu-zak/Odd Future on the doo-rag, guess who’s back,” take on the feel of a street battle.

While some moments of the show had a spontaneous feel to it — Tyler and Earl asking if guys in the audience were suffering from “dick sweat” like they were onstage and Domo leading a brief chant of a new verse that went “hot soup in my motherfuckin’ bowl” — there was a definite flow that was given some forethought, particularly in the middle when things slowed down a bit to bring some seriousness and drama. In particular, Domo intoned his mad love for weed in “Me and My Bitch” and Tyler’s rapping his nakedly heartbroken verses of “IFHY.”

What made the show so intriguing was that there was so much extemporaneous back-and-forth between the guys that it all seemed to be on the verge of collapsing under too much creative talent. But they pushed on, letting their thoughts and feelings fly over a rhythmic base that was sometimes skittered across the synapses and sometimes floor-shaking bass bumps.

In comparison to the more black-centic Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan, Odd Future is a lot more free-wheeling and solipsistic in nature, more attuned, than any group, to skate punks raised on the unfiltered Internet. No wonder that, at its appearance at the opening of the new in4mation hip-hop clothing store earlier that day, the fans that had lined up since 5 a.m. were basically middle and high school kids. They instinctively understand the absurd playfulness of the group’s merchandise line, whether it’s the initials “OF” styled as pink-frosted doughnuts or the phrase “Golf Wang” printed on T-shirts (take “Wolf Gang” and change up the first letters of the two words).

Hugely entertaining, it’ll be curious to see where these guys will be years from now.

Odd Future's lead provocateur Tyler, the Creator

Rap ‘N’ Rock: Odd Future and Los Lobos coming to Hawaii

Two of Hawaii's favorites from Los Angeles playing shows throughout the islands

Honolulu will be fortunate enough to get two shows starting this weekend that are sure to be crowd-pleasers. Both hailing from Los Angeles, Tyler, the Creator, and his madcap rap collective Odd Future, and veteran Chicano rockers Los Lobos will be playing, respectively, Saturday at the Republik and Thursday at Hawaiian Brian’s refurbished showroom. (Both will also play Maui, with Los Lobos doing additional gigs on Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i island.)

The groups regularly visit the islands when they can and we are the best for it. OF (or, in its long form, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) boasts a membership that includes Tyler, Earl Sweatshirt and its breakout artist Frank Ocean, who we can only hope will be part of the visiting Hawaii crew. And the worldly Los Lobos — now in its 40th year — continues to lay down a rock-solid foundation of rock and blues that never strays far from its regional Mexican folk roots.

Odd Future is coming off its second annual OFWGKTA Carnival held last week Saturday at the L.A. Coliseum where Kanye West made an unannounced onstage appearance. And the crew — which includes Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, Left Brain and a colorful assortment of others — is sure to bring the ruckus onstage and hype up the Hawaii crowds. Both Tyler and Earl released notable albums earlier this year in “Wolf” and “Doris,” and, according to a Tyler interview with New Musical Express last month, the two of them plan to record and release an album as EarlWolf in the near future.

In a Los Angeles Times feature on Wednesday, Lobos founding member Cesar Rosas said he was pleased with the growing preponderance of “mexicanos” who’ve come to their shows over their multi-decade career. The versatile band has certainly brought in their fair share of local folk to its Hawaii shows. (As a sidenote, I remember one gig years ago at the defunct After Dark on Nimitz Highway when Rosas sang the ballad standard “Sabor a Mi” to the delight of the crowd.)

The Lobos’ Louie Pérez also mentioned in the article that the band confidently knows that “we belong anywhere, we can go anywhere … whether it be Helsinki or Chapel Hill, N.C.” “We feel like the Forrest Gumps of Chicano rock,” Rosas also said. “We’ve sore of been in a lot of trippy places, you know? We’ve met presidents, too, a lot of heavyweights. Chicano kids playing with the Grateful Dead, you know?”

The band’s latest album, the live “Disconnected in New York City,” celebrates Los Lobos’ 40-year history.

Overall, just great music. For more information on these groups’ Hawaii shows, go to bamproject.com and lazarbearproductions.com.

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John Cruz on the outdoor Hallowbaloo stage. Photo by Gary Chun

Toussaint & Cruz: The Review

I’m not the biggest fan of festivals. Having worked my fair share of them in the past, I’ve been able to avoid the crowds and, during my sundry duties, on occasion been able to place myself near or off stage to enjoy the music.

After last year’s cancellation due to a tsunami scare, I know that promoter Mark Tarone of the Hallowbaloo Music + Arts Festival was particularly concerned that Saturday’s event would go off without a hitch and, thankfully, it did, so I made sure I got to the outdoor stage early enough to have a good vantage point up front to see the legendary Allen Toussaint in person.

At first, I thought Toussaint was going to do a solo stint. (I was happy to see that a baby grand piano was set up for him.) But I didn’t realize that John Cruz — who promoted his new album “Electric Soul” with a stellar backup band the night before at the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Doris Duke Theatre — was basically the opening act for Toussaint. He and the band of guitarist Imua Garza (formerly of the Opihi Pickers and what a musician!), and the rock-solid rhythm section of Bonnie Raitt’s touring band, bassist Hutch Hutchinson and drummer Ricky Fataar — stayed on stage after their half-hour set to backup Toussaint.

Before commenting on the Toussaint set, I was impressed with Cruz’s music and command on stage. I remember saying to myself during Cruz’s set that, “man, this guy should be bigger on the contemporary Hawaiian music scene,” and I hope that will be so after the release of the new album. He’s already made his name with his now-standard “Island Style” (which was his set’s last song), but Cruz is certainly not resting on his reputation. I’m looking forward to more from his stellar music in years to come.

Now for Mr. Allen Toussaint. I admit I was thrilled to speak to him by phone before he left his New Orleans home for a mini-tour of Japan and then heading east to Hawaii. His Southern warmth and congeniality is genuine, and he brought that same spirit to the stage. By night’s end, he was singing the praises of Cruz and company. Hutchinson and Fataar in particular, because of their years and years of experience, kept up with and supported Toussaint change-for-change. Such was Toussaint’s confidence in them that he threw in an standard Nawlins piano boogie piece in Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief.” Hutchinson was visibly pleased and I half expected to see lines of colorful and feathered Indian social clubs to start appearing in Chinatown!

Toussaint definitely gave the Hallowbaloo crowd the best of the Big Easy, with a generous helping of classic hits from his own repertoire: “A Certain Girl,” “Fortune Teller,” “Working in a Coal Mine,” “With You in Mind,” “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,” “Night People,” “Brickyard Blues,” “Yes We Can Can,” and “Southern Nights.” That comforting baritone voice, when combined with his piano-playing chops, was a pleasure to experience. And to make it complete, at set’s end, he threw out some mardi gras parasols, a mask, and other party items (sorry, no beads) to the crowd.

It was a honor to see and hear in person Allen Toussaint, an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, this year, recipient of a National Medal of Arts from President Obama. At 75 years strong, may he keep on keepin’ on.

Four Hallowbaloo shows you shouldn’t miss

Each year, Hallowbaloo offers a great selection of live music. Here's some acts not to be missed.

Allen Touissant
Elton John has said, “When I meet someone like Allen Toussaint, that, for me, is like meeting someone of the equivalent of the Dalai Lama because for me, he influenced the way I played the piano. He’s a historical part of rock and roll.” Saturday, October 26, 2013 • 7:45 pm on the Scion Stage (Smith St. & Hotel St.)

John Cruz & Electric Soul
You know John’s music. Cruz will be backed by Bonnie Raitt’s rhythm section, acclaimed musicians, James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass and Ricky Fataar on drums, with local virtuoso Imua Garza helping out on electric guitar and keyboard. Two Shows: Fri. 10/25 Doris Duke Theatre – Doors: 8pm, and Sat. 10/26 Scion Stage (Smith & Hotel St) 7:10pm

He’s an amazing, otherworldly talent. Check him out, with a great lead-in by DJ Mr. Nick. Saturday, October 26, 2013 • 10pm-2am at The ARTS at Marks Garage.

Xavier Rudd
Aboriginal and original music, here in Chinatown. Saturday, October 26, 2013 • 8:55 pm on the Scion Stage (Smith St. & Hotel St.)


Chang rocks the Bruch

Hawaii Symphony, we missed you

Sarah Chang plays the violin like a gymnast rock star. She is fascinating to watch, standing hand on hip in the orchestral interludes, like an Olympian waiting to mount the balance beam. When she finishes a blazing passage, her bow whips in a wide arc like Townshend hitting a power chord. It seems almost contrived at first, if you have not seen her perform before.

But I am ahead of myself. To explain, the Hawaii Symphony kicked of a new season tonight, featuring Sarah Chang playing Bruch’s 1st Violin Concerto. The season almost did not happen as funding sputtered in, but at last, voila! And it is no shabby season: these are serious shows. The marketing department has a tough road ahead, with the Weekly gone and a few years of inertia to overcome, but hopefully they will win out.

The orchestra was in fine fighting form, despite the break. Guest conductor Jahja Ling ran a tight ship, hustling the sections along when needed, and pulling off a effortless sounding show sonically. Most of the players seem to have stayed on somehow, with Iggy Jang elegantly filling the concertmaster seat and with familiar faces throughout.

Chang took the stage in a shimmering green gown like a mermaid visiting the stage. A child commented and she smiled graciously. The piece began, and her opening statement seemed softer than expected, but I suspect she was playing her 300 year old Guarneri, and they are more buttery than bright. The tone won out on the more eloquently emotional passages: this is a violin that sings plaintively enough for a Romantic composer like Bruch.

Chang wrings a lot of emotion out of an already emotional piece. It really does not hurt that she leans back as she reaches the climax of a phrase or that she visibly grooves to the building intensity, awaiting her entrances as the piece nears its finish. I have come to believe that she is not posing: this is probably what she does practicing at home alone.  That is her visceral involvement with the musical environment: she is rocking the Bruch.

This is a show worth seeing, and there is one more chance Sunday afternoon. Welcome back, Hawaii Symphony, we missed you.

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Xavier Rudd

Fly on, Spirit Bird

The message behind Australian singer-songwriter Xavier Rudd’s latest album “Spirit Bird” is to keep fighting for one’s native culture. It’s one that he knows the people of Hawaii can understand.

“There’s been too much suffering of indigenous people around the world,” he said last Friday by long distance phone. “It’s important to remember that our lot is tied into what happens to our land. We need to keep a balance with the Earth.”

An icon in his native country and a popular festival act internationally, Rudd said “I like where I’m at now as an artist. It’s been a good career and I’ve made connections with audiences the world over. My music represent my journey through life, and continues to evolve artistically.

“I’ve always played rootsy music with a spiritual sense. This started back when I was a kid, and as I’ve grown, I’ve had more exposure to different sounds. They’re all branches from the same deep-rooted tree.

The Hallowbaloo audience should find Rudd as a performer captivating, as he surrounds himself with guitars, various percussion and upwards of three yidakis.

“I guess I started playing what’s called the digeridoo when I blew into the end of a vacuum cleaner hose when I was a kid. You develop the style of circular breathing that you need to play it. I played my first traditional yidakis when I was 10 years of age. It’s definitely a separate thing unto itself, very meditational in the Aboriginal culture. It was a sound that I definitely connected, because there’s indigenous blood on my father’s side.

“When I was 18-19, I started blending it with my guitar playing. I play it with no sense of novelty. The yidakis is attached to my music.”

Rudd said the title track of “Spirit Bird” is reflection of “a powerful part of my journey.” In an earlier interview with Rolling Stone, the initial inspiration came during a trip to northwest Australia, where he had an upclose encounter with red-tailed black cockatoos. A spiritual message filled with past memories was passed onto him by “one old-woman spirit bird” that locked eyes with him, and he later wrote the first half of the song on a sacred beach.

The second part came a few years later, just before he heard that the Australian government had taken over land in the exact same part of country he traveled through to construct a proposed gas processing plant. “Spirit Bird” has since become a song of victory since the development plans stopped in April after protests.

“My voice is channeling my country’s Aboriginal past,” Rudd said. “I’m a human vehicle for something else. It’s a vibe, a spirit that’s coming through me. Since I was little, I always had dreams of old times, and I’ve always worked out what that meant to me. There was a lot of shame on my father’s side of the family — weird shit and a lot of pain and suffering that was swept under the carpet.

“The old soul that comes to me is a woman, a grandmother or a great-grandmother. It’s a presence that I respect greatly and always will. I don’t think that I will ever understand it, and I don’t think it was meant to be. But that’s OK. I give thanks and let the music come through.”

For more information, go to Hallowbaloo’s Facebook page. The free street festival in the Chinatown arts district will run from 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26.

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Mr. Toussaint comes to Honolulu

Mark Tarone, the promoter of the annual Hallowbaloo Music + Arts Festival in Chinatown, is noted for bringing in outstanding music from abroad to help with the costumed festivities, and this year, he’s brought in a couple of talents that are particularly noteworthy.

Xavier Rudd is an internationally known folk singer-songwriter from Australia who blends in native Aboriginal sounds in a captivating “one-man band” presentation, complete with yidakis, better known to outside audiences as the digeridoo.

His counterpart at Hallowbaloo, well, to describe him as legendary would be a gross understatement. Allen Toussaint, going 75 years strong, will give us just a sampling of his incredible legacy of New Orleans music. Singing and playing the piano, the man has enjoyed a revitalized on-stage career, thanks to a residency at Joe’s Pub in New York City, the busy metropolis he temporarily called home when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Big Easy back in 2005.

Four years later, that music from the Big Apple would be documented on his latest recording “Songbook,” where he lends his gentle baritone and light touch on the keys to such self-penned classics as “Lipstick Traces,” “Brickyard Blues,” “Freedom for the Stallion,” “Yes We Can” and “Southern Nights.”

Toussaint — make that MISTER Toussaint — will be doing a rare mini-tour of Japan before performing Oct. 26 in Honolulu, and speaking by phone from his New Orleans home Tuesday, he sounds as vital as ever.

“I’ve been back, doing more shows, ever since New York,” he said. “It was a good stay, and it especially built up my energy. At the time, it was very fresh and new to me, playing solo. All of my life, I’ve spent more time in the studio, and to find myself doing Sunday brunch shows from 12 to 1 at Joe’s Pub, it was quite an experience. Sometimes, there was an audience of three generations, grandparents, parents and kids, and it surprised me that many of the old people knew who I was and my music.”

The energy was not only limited to performances, but in writing as well. “I wrote loads of new songs then, and I began a collaboration with Elvis Costello, which would be monumental.” The resulting album of that fortuitous partnership, 2006’s “The River in Reverse,” would garner a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album.

A 1998 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one other important accolade that Mr. Toussaint’s received was back in July, when President Obama awarded him the Medal of Honor for the Arts at the White House.

Compared to his more robust keyboard influences like Professor Longhair or Fats Domino, while Mr. Toussaint can lay down the boogie with the best of them, “I do play a wider range of music than those others, in my estimation. Having produced so many people in the studio (from Nawlins funk masters The Meters, and on to Dr. John, The Band, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Labelle, who recorded his hit ‘Lady Marmalade’), I admit I’m such a chameleon. Coming up as a youngster, I heard a lot of things that I could play on the piano — hillbilly, classical, and gospel, which I loved — that it caused me not to be just in one genre. It’s also given me the ability to write and arrange for different artists.”

When asked if, during his long and rich life in music, if he immediately knew that he had “nailed it” on any given session, Mr. Toussaint immediately thought it would be “so sacrilegious” to come in so full of oneself into a recording beforehand. “But I do admit that I did like the horn arrangement for Paul Simon’s ‘Kodachrome.’ He’s such a wonderful man and I felt good about that.” (I’d like to add the great horn arrangements that he did for The Band as documented on the “Rock of Ages” live album.)

As for being 75 years of age, Mr. Toussaint said “I never think of my age. I feel vigorous, and blessed and honored that I’m still in music. I look forward to all of my tomorrows. I wake up every day and just get into it.”

He’s pleased that he’s recently worked on some “nice things, like the score I did with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra for a piece I collaborated with Twyla Tharp called ‘Waiting at the Station.’ That turned out very good. Last year, I wrote the score for a musical based on one of the popular ‘Magic Tree House’ children’s books written by Mary Pope Osborne that celebrates the life of Louis Armstrong. And I’ll be going back in the studio with producer Joe Henry.” (The two last worked together on Mr. Toussaint’s “The Bright Mississippi,” a 2010 Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.)

Throughout his travels, Mr. Toussaint continues to be inspired, “making notes and collecting data” for new songs that number upward to 30 now, some of which may be included on the Henry project. “I don’t tour much, so Japan will be quite a trip, and to make a stop in Hawaii will make it a most special one.”

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From then to now

Gary Chun listens to Bennett, Brubeck, and Johnson

For this week, let’s listen in on music that’s something old and something new: “the old” from a world-famous singer with a storied career who still finds inspiration on the contemporary scene, and “the new” from a world-famous musician who finds inspiration from his beloved wife and adopted island home.

First off, Tony Bennett, 87 years young, who recently did a sold-out show at the Blaisdell Concert Hall doing what he does best, that is interpret lyrics from the Great American Songbook with an innate understanding like no other. Amongst the songs the wonderful Bennett sang that night were “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” and, of course, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the hit that broke open his career back in 1962.

That song was a national hit for only a couple of weeks when Bennett and the Dave Brubeck Quartet did a special White House-sponsored show outdoors at the base of the Washington Monument, the recording of which has been released by Columbia/Legacy as “Bennett/Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962.”

For those who attended the Honolulu show and need something to tide them over before the anticipated release of his duet jazz album with Lady Gaga in January next year, the White House Sessions makes for a pleasant souvenir for Bennett fans.

Bennett and his band (including who would turn out to be his longtime pianist Ralph Sharon) followed Brubeck in the show — and, by the way, if you’re a Brubeck fan, you’ll want to pick up this historic album, because the pianist and his guys, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and the superb drummer Joe Morello, are all in top form here. There’s a generous amount of soloing and one can never hear too much of the signature “Take Five.”

While Bennett’s voice has mellowed a bit with age, here on this 1962 recording, you definitely hear a more vibrant, younger version of the great man. Highlights include his takes on a couple of Broadway tunes, “Small World” and “Make Somebody Happy,” the aforementioned “One for My Baby” and a slower and subdued version of “San Francisco” that is a welcome departure from the then-new recording that would make him famous.

Both Bennett and Brubeck would join forces at show’s end, and Bennett shows his jazz chops by doing an unrehearsed take on “Lullaby of Broadway” and the night’s final number, “There Will Never Be Another You,” that is a tour-de-force for both men.

Flash-forward 51 years, and here is Jack Johnson’s latest album “From Here to Now to You” (Brushfire/Universal). Even though Johnson has made his reputation here as not only a musician but an environmentalist, thanks to the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation he oversees with his wife Kim, it’s hard to fathom for local fans how humongous an international star he is.

Johnson is just starting to tour elsewhere behind the new album after a three-year hiatus from extensive travel. His fans have come out in droves for his one-off appearances at the Bonnaroo Festival and just last month at Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid 2013 in Sarasota Springs, N.Y.

I think that’s because Johnson’s music is awash with a loving island vibe, and that’s certainly evident on the new album. Compared to 2010’s “To the Sea,” for me Johnson’s most interesting album due to his addressing his father’s death, “From Here to Now to You” is practically made with sunshine, best heard on a laidback morning-afternoon, with songs “recorded with solar energy” and presented with an aural clarity.

There’s a nice flow to the album, kicking off with Johnson’s whistling on the sweet and simple “I Got You.” Things remain warm and inviting with “Washing Dishes,” “Shot Reverse Shot,” the love song “Never Fade” (with a reference to Johnson’s earliest hit “Bubbletoes”) and one of my favorites, “Tape Deck,” done up acoustic style with a hint of melodica. I particularly like Johnson’s impressionistic and fun lyrics here, a rememberance of his very early years of trying to form a punk band inspired by Minor Threat.

Another favorite (and one that Johnson likes himself for its moments of self-discovery) is “As I Was Saying,” where he earnestly tells a loved one “I don’t want to disappoint you/I don’t want to disappear/From here or now or you.”

The uplifting “Radiate” appears to be the new jam song for Johnson’s upcoming concerts, as Johnson and his longtime backing band of Zach Gill, Adam Topol and Merlo Podlewski stretch out the backbeat with strange guitar sounds for added color.

Johnson literally brings it back home by album’s end, but not before one of his more overt message songs “Ones and Zeros “and the cautionary “Change,” featuring guest Ben Harper on his trademark Weissenborn slide guitar. Filled with the sounds of birds, the closing “Home” — originally heard on the 2004 soundtrack album to the surf documentary “A Brokedown Melody” —  is a simple declaration of where the man finds his love and strength, mainly his place of sanctuary on the North Shore.