Herb Ohta Jr.
(Lele Music Productions)
Although Hawaii residents of a certain vintage might always associate the phrase "quietly but effectively" with former Gov. George Ariyoshi, it works equally well in describing the career trajectory of ukulele virtuoso Herb Ohta Jr. In the two decades since he first recorded professionally, "Herb Junior" has quietly but effectively established himself as one of the leading players of his generation. This appropriately titled album — nahenahe translates as "sweet, melodious" — displays his command of the instrument on an assortment of Hawaiian and hapa-haole standards. Each is beautifully executed.
Ohta sets the mood with an exquisite solo rendition of "Ku’u Pua i Paoakalani" and continues with "Na Pua Lei ‘Ilima" and "Ka Pilina." Jeff Au Hoy (steel guitar), Nathan Aweau (bass) and Jon Yamasato (acoustic guitar) join him on various selections. Au Hoy provides subtle embellishments on "Pane Mai" and is featured more prominently on "Henehene Koa ‘Aka."
"Over the Rainbow" is neither Hawaiian nor hapa haole in origin, but so many people elsewhere associate it with the islands that Ohta’s solo rendition of the song fits the theme and closes the album on a soothing, tranquil note.
Landeza’s album has old-time sound
‘Ku’u Honua Mele (My Music World)’
Ukulele, acoustic guitar, steel guitar and acoustic bass have become so well known as the fundamental instruments of traditional Hawaiian and hapa haole music that it can come as a surprise to learn that Hawaiian groups of earlier eras accorded similar status to other instruments — mandolin and violin, to name two. This album by slack key guitarist Patrick Landeza, a California resident with island roots, evokes memories of those old-time groups; a dobro, a type of acoustic steel guitar, is heard on two tracks, and a Celtic guitarist sits in on another.
Landeza plays with a particularly warm, nahenahe sound and a traditionalist’s approach to Hawaiian standards. "Kila Kila na Rough Riders" and "Maori Brown Eyes" stand out in that respect. With that as the foundation, none of the more exotic bits and pieces feel intrusive.
Dennis Kamakahi, George Kuo, Herb Ohta Jr., Cyril Pahinui and George Winston add celebrity star-power as high-profile guests. Kuo and Winston provide the reinforcement required to make "Kahuku Slack Key" the work of a slack key trio rather than solo performance — or a mixing board concoction.
Landeza pays a subtle tribute to Bob Wills, an iconic figure in the development of Western swing music in the ’30s and ’40s, with an imaginative reworking of "Hanalei Moon." Bobby Black, a mainland musician and former member of Asleep at the Wheel and the New Riders of the Purple Sage, sits in on steel guitar, and although the song is usually slow, soft and romantic, Landeza and Black show that it also works when played as an up-tempo, number.
Ohta-Yamasato pairing is a winner
Herb Ohta Jr. & Jon Yamasato
(Lele Music Productions)
Herb Ohta Jr. has made memorable recordings with slack key guitarist Keoki Kahumoku and also with Grammy Award-winning musician/producer Daniel Ho. His new project with Jon Yamasato — released almost simultaneously with Ohta Jr.’s solo CD — is equally significant.
It has been almost 10 years since Yamasato used a Thanksgiving Day column drop in The Honolulu Advertiser to inform Hawaii — and the other members of Pure Heart — that he was quitting the group and going back to school. Yamasato resurfaced as a recording artist almost immediately, and he’s been active since then as a record producer and mentor of younger acts as well.
Yamasato’s most important contribution to Pure Heart was his voice, and although he plays several instruments, it is his voice that is the essential ingredient here.
Yamasato’s voice was as important to Pure Heart as Lokapa Colon’s percussion and Jake Shimabukuro’s charisma. There’s a sense of that old-time feeling as Ohta, Yamasato and percussionist Jon Porlas open with a Yamasato original, "Back to You." Yamasato also sings on a remake of "Ku’u Home o Kahalu’u" that brings no new ideas to Jerry Santos’ musical signature — but is beautifully done nonetheless. Yamasato’s distinctive voice still charms.
Other selections are performed as instrumentals. Yamasato and Ohta personalize contemporary hapa-haole standards such as "Paniolo Country" and "Hanalei Moon." It’s beautiful work by both of them.