POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 22, 2010
The ukulele went out into the world and became known worldwide as the iconic musical instrument of Hawaii. Many people outside Hawaii associate the steel guitar with country music, even though it too was first played here — but not so the ever-popular uke.
This album, featuring Southern California resident Sarah Maisel on ukulele and vocals, is a testament to the instrument's long history in hapa-haole music and its versatility in other genres. Maisel and a squad of talented studio musicians present a musical potpourri that includes jazz, pop and country standards as well as "Blue Hawaii" and "In a Little Hula Heaven."
Maisel and producer Tim Coffman open with a pleasant instrumental version of "The Lady Is a Tramp" in which ukulele shares the spotlight with guitar. They move in a different direction with "Walkin' After Midnight" — not only is the ukulele more prominent, but Maisel also sings, and quite well at that. Most ukulele albums in recent years have been instrumental projects; Maisel's voice adds another element to her album, and the musicians make significant contributions without overshadowing her.
Those in the mood for ukulele instrumentals should program their CD players for "The Nearness of You" and "Misty." Both are beautifully done.
"Have Uke Will Travel" is available at www.rolltopmusic.com.
Amy Hanaiali'i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai'i
(Peterson Productions PP006)
Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom has reinvented herself several times in the 15 years since she released her debut album, "Native Child," in 1995. She's performed as Amy, Amy Gilliom, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Amy Hanaiali'i. Her repertoire has shifted between original contemporary pop, traditionalist Hawaiian music, American pop standards and contemporary hapa-haole versions of other artists' national hits.
Her career took off when she teamed up with Willie K in the mid-'90s. Their 2004 reunion album was a Grammy finalist in 2005. Now for the first time since then, she is again recording as a member of a duo or group rather than as a solo artist.
That's a big step. Her last album, "Friends & Family of Hawai'i," was officially a solo album with a different guest joining her on each song. This one is a genuine group project. Amy sings lead on several selections, shares the vocal spotlight on others, sings backing vocals elsewhere and is completely absent on several more. Four other members of the sextet — Dennis Kamakahi, Elmer "Sonny" Lim Jr., Chino Montero and Cyril Pahinui — are also featured as lead vocalists. The guys team up with co-producer Jeff Peterson, the sixth member of the group, in various instrumental combinations.
In short, this is not a compilation album of recordings made separately by individual artists, nor is it another Amy Hanaiali'i album in which the other artists are used as her guests.
How long has it been since Hawaii last saw a true "all-star" group? Given the group billing and the nature of the contents, there's no question that this is one.
It would be easy but simplistic to appraise this album solely in terms of how likely it is that the sextet will win a Grammy in 2011. What's more relevant is the group's artistic success in combining their talents as equal partners in this milestone project.
(Poi Dog Productions)
And now for something completely different in local music! An ever-growing list of "jukebox" musicals has been assembled elsewhere in recent years through the simple expedient of pulling together a bunch of popular songs that have something in common and then stringing them along a minimal plot. Hawaii recording artist Laura-May Azpiazu is using the approach in a different manner here as she combines 10 songs from her 2009 album "Midnight Smooth" with several new tracks as the soundtrack of a new local musical.
The setting is the Big Apple; the time, somewhere back in the "film noir" era of the '40s or early '50s. Cynical private eye Sam Shade doesn't want to take the case of a woman who is being followed by a mysterious stranger, but "a wad of bills I just can't say no to" changes his mind. Rod Martin stars as Shade and narrates the story.
Starr Kalahiki does a phenomenal job singing all the female characters. "What Will You Give Me for This Heart" and "Jazz on the Rocks" are two of her best numbers. No question about it, it's time for someone to produce an entire album by Kalahiki — jazz, pop standards, Hawaiian, whatever.
The music here is a mix of pop genres appropriate to the theme — a little jazz, a little Latin, a little pop and occasional Asian melodic undercurrents. Martin joins Kalahiki to make "It's That Kind of Day" a romantic duet and proves himself a serviceable singer as well as a narrator.
Local hip-hop star Jonah Moananu (better known on the street as Big MOX) yanks the project in a show-stopping anachronistic direction on "Manhattan Dances On" as he does the voices of hip-hop newsboys hawking a late-night extra edition of the local paper. It's a surprising but effective break from everything else in the show.
Azpiazu invites mystery fans to get the "rest of the story" of Sam Shade's adventures at www.filmnoir-themusical.com.