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Jazz quartet goes live, Maisel goes global, Okami goes to help

By John Berger

LAST UPDATED: 2:24 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

'Nandemo Dekiru/You Can Do It, If You Try'

Alvin Okami & Friends

Alvin Okami was working on this song as a spin-off project from a book he is writing when he learned of the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan and decided to make it a message of support. He wrote lyrics in English and Japanese, recruited some friends as studio musicians, and made it available as a free download. It is now also available for sale as a traditional CD with a portion of the proceeds going to the areas in need in Japan.

The song is a gentle and earnest bilingual message of encouragement that Okami sings in both languages. Herb Ohta Jr. (ukulele) and Pali Kaaihue (guitar) are the featured guest musicians, Danny Kiaha (bass) and Keith Yoshioka (rhythm guitar) join Okami (rhythm ukulele) in rounding out the lineup.

» "Nandemo Dekiro/You Can Do It, If You Try"

'Remembrance/Live At The Triple Door'

Honolulu Jazz Quartet
(Honolulu Jazz Quartet Records)

Ten years is a long time to keep a group together. The Honolulu Jazz Quartet — John Kolivas (bass), Tim Tsukiyama (sax), Dan Del Negro (piano) and von Baron (drums) — celebrates that milestone in great style here.

All but one of the nine tracks are from a gig at a Seattle nightclub. Kolivas' brother, Robert Pennybacker, writes in the liner notes: "Studio recordings capture a jazz group as it would like to be. Live recordings capture a jazz group as it is. And in the world of jazz, ‘is' is far more exciting than ‘would.'" Right he is! It doesn't take anything away from the quartet's two studio albums to applaud the verve of these recordings. Like the four equal partners they are, each guy steps forward for well-deserved solos, and each steps back so that the others can shine.

All things considered, the most notable track is the quartet's imaginative reworking of Keola Beamer's "The Real Old Style" as acoustic jazz. While their own instrumental compositions all deserve careful listening, their take on Beamer also displays their skill as arrangers of artists' work in other musical genres.

The quartet commemorates its 10th anniversary by closing the album with the group's first-ever recording, "Remembrance," written by Kolivas and Pennybacker in 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks. Including the song — a studio recording made with vocalist Anita Hall and Richie Pratt on drums — breaks the "live" format, but with the exception of a line about "a hole in the sky," the song and its sentiments can now be heard in a broader context.

» "Speedtrap"

'In The Moment'

Sarah Maisel

Ukulele is the featured instrument as singer/musician Sarah Maisel and a small group of studio musicians explore an intriguing collection of 20th century pop hits. The collection stretches from "Ukulele Lady" and "A Foggy Day (In London Town)" to hits by James Taylor and Jim Croce. Maisel and producer Tim Coffman certainly have broad musical horizons.

She opens with a light jazzy arrangement of "East of the Sun (West of the Moon)," a pop classic from the 1930s. It's a fine introduction to Maisel as singer and strummer; an unobtrusive rhythm section gives the track a nice swing feel.

The next two songs stake out other territory. Maisel puts her own stamp on "For Once In My Life" with a nicely executed solo on the bridge. "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)" delves outside American music with an Antonio Carlos Jobim composition. Performed with English lyrics, it has a romantic, tropical feel.

The two old-time hapa haole selections are natural choices for an ukulele player. Both are treated with respect. "I Will," with an extended instrumental introduction, is another highlight.

» "East of the Sun (West of the Moon)"

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