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Jake remakes, Cazimero retunes, Kapono revels in here and now

By John Berger

LAST UPDATED: 2:25 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

"Across the Universe"

Jake Shimabukuro
(Sony Music Japan International SICP 2166)

Jake Shimabukuro's instrumental arrangement of George Harrison's classic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" ranks as one of the most popular pieces in his repertoire. Shimabukuro returns to the Beatles' songbook with this collection of 13 songs, including "Weeps," bending the format a bit with a song John Lennon wrote after leaving the group.

Shimabukuro's popular take on Harrison's composition showcases his ability to "shred"; he plays most of the others with a delicate precision that allows each note to breathe.

Some selections are instantly recognizable — "Michelle" and "Norwegian Wood," for example — others less so. He adds variety by playing acoustic guitar as well as ukulele on four selections.

There are three guests. Cyndi Lauper adds vocals to the title track; Kalapana alumnus Randy Aloya plays bass deep in the mix on "In My Life"; and Shimabukuro welcomes cellist Yo-Yo Ma as a full partner on "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Including a vocalist on one song out of 13 seems a bit odd, but Ma and Aloya fit in beautifully.

» "Across the Universe"


Robert Cazimero
(Mountain Apple MACD 2160)

Robert Cazimero has been making significant contributions to Hawaiian music for four decades, and to hula for almost that long. His discography includes his early work as a member of the Sunday Manoa, his prolific partnership with younger brother Roland as the Brothers Cazimero, and his parallel career as a solo artist.

Cazimero writes in the liner notes that he is "lucky in that my career has been in music and I've been able to sing some of the most beautiful music that hula is danced to as well as compose some hula mele (songs) that have been danced by many." One of those compositions is among the 11 he shares here. Most of the others are of older vintage.

The arrangements remind one and all that Cazimero is a talented pianist. From the opening bars of "Keawaiki" through the final fading notes of "Lei No Ka‘iulani," his playing is as important to the album's aesthetic success as his seemingly effortless singing. Listeners fluent in Hawaiian may assess his command of the language, but for the majority this is a beautiful voice soaring over exquisite melodies.

Two R. Alex Anderson compositions represent Hawaii's hapa haole tradition. Cazimero interprets "Lovely Hula Hands" as a delicate love song that builds in richness and then gradually fades away like a dream at dawn. "Haole Hula" is just a bit more brisk but performed with the same meticulousness.

It is unfortunate that no information is provided about the meaning and cultural significance of these songs, let alone their lyrics and translations. Many island residents know that "H. Beamer" is Helen Desha Beamer, and that she wrote "Kimo Hula" to celebrate the hospitality of James "Kimo" Henderson, but many others do not.

Even if everyone in Hawaii were fluent in Hawaiian and understood the Hawaiian lyrics, it would still be important to share the history.

» "Across the Sea"


Henry Kapono
(Kapono 2011)

Cecilio & Kapono received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 for their work as a duo. It was well deserved, but this new album marks the 30th anniversary of Henry Kapono Kaaihue's debut as a solo artist, and he deserves a second Lifetime Achievement Award for his solo work.

Consider that Kapono anticipated Jawaiian music with "Stand in the Light," the hit single off his debut album, "Kapono," in 1981. He released one of the best local Christmas albums of the 20th century, "Merry Christmas to You," in 1989, and went "unplugged" with his "Song for Someone" album in 1990. In 1991 he addressed the festering problems with the Hawaiian Homes program with "Broken Promise" and then commemorated the centennial of the overthrow of the legitimate Hawaiian government with a full-length album in 1993.

This album is about where Kapono is now. In short, he is a happy man. There are songs about looking for love, the joy of being with the person you love and the experience of watching your kids grow up. The lyrics are generally straightforward and heartfelt; longtime fans will note his use of key phrases from his old-time hits. The arrangements are pleasantly diverse. Ukulele gives a bright, quintessentially island spirit to the lead-off song, "Across the Sea." Acoustic guitar is the lead instrument on several others.

"I Can't Imagine That," acoustic rock with a hint of country, is a love song for all seasons. "Dreams," about how watching his children reminds him of his childhood, is the only song that uses piano as the main instrument. And with "Is That Peace I See," written around a gentle but irresistible rhythm, he shares his hopes for a better future.

Ubiquitous slam poet Kealoha is an intrusive addition on "Love Shine" but fits the harsher hard rock sound of "Heart of a Warrior."

» "Keawaiki"

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