Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Genesis of 'Polani' enriches enjoyment

By John Berger



Daniel Ho
(Daniel Ho Creations)

Daniel Ho might not be the busiest guy in the Hawaiian record business — such a ranking would be impossible to establish — but the four-time Grammy Award-winner has been busy in recent months as a record producer, songwriter, recording artist and studio musician backing other artists. He wears the first three of those four hats with this album of solo ukulele instrumentals.

Taken at surface value, it's a simple project perfect for casual listening or as background music. There is, however, more going on here.

Ho explains in the liner notes that he wrote the 11 original pieces partly for his own personal enjoyment and partly to explore the musical concepts of half-steps and unisons. For the benefit of everyone whose college major wasn't music theory or composition, he explains that half-steps are the dissonant intervals between notes, and unisons are their opposite. He also explains how he creates them on ukulele.

Nothing is more helpful in fully appreciating a recording than knowing what the artist was intending to do and how they approached the process. Having that information is another reason to buy "Polani" rather than one of the many other ukulele instrumental albums out there.

Set aside the technical aspects and "Polani" is also a perfect choice for anyone trying to mellow out after dealing with rush-hour gridlock or drama on the home front.

» "Pala'ela'e"
» "Ho'okahi"
» "Ahe Lua Makani"

'Hawaiian Cowboy'

Hailama Farden
(Lee Enterprises)

Hailama Farden has been best known in recent years as a faculty member at the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama Campus and as one of the most influential members of the Board of Governors of the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts. Now he draws on the musical legacy bequeathed him by his Farden ancestors in creating this unusual tribute to the late Solomon K. Bright.

Bright — "Uncle Sol" for short — would have celebrated his 100th birthday late last year. Farden commemorates him in perfect style.

Bright will always be remembered as the composer of "Sophisticated Hula" and "Hawaiian Cowboy" — the former a hapa-haole classic, the latter a Hawaiian-language tribute to Hawaii's paniolo and their exploits. Most Hawaiian songs have kaona (hidden meanings); performances of "Hawaiian Cowboy" usually make its "hidden meanings" obvious. For that reason, and because of the way Bright sang it, the song was a show stopper for him from the first time he performed it in California in 1933.

Farden explains in the liner notes that he recorded "Hawaiian Cowboy" as Bright taught it to him more than 20 years ago and that the words Bright taught him are different from those on the published sheet music. Farden also recalls how relieved he was to get a phone call from Bright expressing his approval after Farden began performing the song.

Including "karaoke tracks" on a CD almost always adds nothing but running time. This is one of the rare exceptions. Farden's decision to include the lyrics for "Hawaiian Cowboy" in Hawaiian and English, and for "Sophisticated Hula" in English, Japanese and romaji (Japanese written in Roman letters), not only documents the lyrics, but also makes it possible to sing along. Farden adds another facet to the project by including five minutes of a telephone conversation he had with Bright in 1989. Much of the conversation is in Hawaiian and therefore will not be understood by mainstream audiences even in Hawaii, but Hawaiians and others who do speak the language will certainly thank Farden for sharing it.

» "Hawaiian Cowboy"
» "Sophisticated Hula"

'Hey Bahtoondah!'

Fred Barnett & the Half-Naked Savages
(Wiki Waki Woo Music)

Don Tiki has been known to present "lounge music" in ways that are closer to parody than a straight tribute to Martin Denny's musical legacy. There always seemed to be tongue-in-cheek aspects to Hula Joe & the Hutjumpers during Hawaii's short-lived "swing band" boom as well. Fans of the odd and offbeat now have another act to embrace, as Fred Barnett & the Half-Naked Savages step forward with a musical concept that is part lounge music and part retro-comedy, with hints of the Hot Club of Hulaville less Hulaville's gypsy violin.

Night-life veterans will recognize Barnett and Jan-Joy Sax as alumni of Wiki Waki Woo — the quartet that put out two albums of whimsical Tin Pan Alley-style pseudo-Hawaiian music in the mid-1980s. Barnett and Sax bring the same playful innocence to this collection of original compositions. Barnett (guitar, steel guitar and bass) is the primary musician and vocalist. Sax sings on several songs. The other Savages are Duncan McIntyre (drums and bass), Michael Wolf (jungle drums and bongos) and Pierre Grill, who provides the keyboards, accordion, brass and assorted sound effects.

The premise of the title song is that the tropical drink known as a zombie was perfected in 1957 by a Haitian "bahtoondah" named Haymon (say it out loud) who needed to come up with a concoction that would knock out an 8-foot zombie. From there on, Barnett and his "savages" serve up a mixed bag of novelty songs and semiserious pop.

"Where Flamingos Go Go" brings the spirit of Tin Pan Alley to a Caribbean setting. The song has a catchy retro feel, leavened with simple rhymes and the suggestion that flamingos aspire to have plastic people on their lawns.

Grill's accordion, and a French-accented introduction, give cosmopolitan shadings to another retro-style number, "Dig Them Swinging Chicks." Also notable: "Swinging' in the Trees," which adds a big-band swing number to the album, and "You Make Me Fall."

Several instrumental selections show that Barnett is also a serious musician. "When You Came True" is a beautiful and soothing interlude. "It Don't Mean a Thang if It Ain't Got That Twang" and "Good Bye" also show what he can do outside the novelty music niche.

» "Hey! Bahtoondah! (Hey! Bartender!)"
» "Swingin' In The Trees"
» "Good Bye"

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