Island Mele: Grey, solo, is smooth and soulful
Trombonist Patrick Hennessey is recognized by those in the know as an important resource in the never-ending struggle to preserve the cultural foundation of the Royal Hawaiian Band. His biography of RHB Bandmaster Heinrich “Henri” Berger has yet to find a publisher, but will be essential reading for Hawaiian music fans and city officials alike when it does.
In addition to being a historian and the RHB’s former principal trombonist (he retired in 2009), Hennessey is one of the nine members of Crosscurrent, the BYU-Hawaii Faculty World Improv Ensemble. If the Hawaii International Jazz Festival had survived the death of its founder, the late Abe Weinstein, these guys would be an excellent choice as local headliners.
Band members David Kammerer (trumpet/flugelhorn/vocals) and Jay Lawrence (vibes/drums/percussion), the co-producers of the project, are on a mission to add elements of indigenous Pacific Islander music to mainstream big band jazz. It’s an admirable albeit challenging objective; keeping the mainstream jazz elements up front ensures that the project will reach its intended audience rather than being wrongly categorized as “world music.”
Jazz fans won’t be disappointed. Crosscurrent embraces a wide range of contemporary jazz genres, and plays them well. Take “Ka Ua o HoÄöĀ√≤oilo (Winter Rain),” for example. Never mind the title; with solos by Kammerer, flautist Larry Cook and guitarist
Robert “Bear” Goldsmith, it is a beautiful piece of music.
Some of the cross-cultural experiments work better than others. Rearranging Tongan songs for performance by a jazz band with Hispanic elements thrown in as well is one of the best. The band’s reworking of a traditional Samoan song is another. Slipping Polynesian percussion instruments into the rhythm section on “Taravana Samba,” and a Samoan vocalist on “Leafaitulagi,” are also good ideas.
There are also places where the efforts to integrate feel forced. Crosscurrent is so solid as a mainstream jazz group that well-intentioned experiments can be gilding a lilly.
Tinifuloa “Tini” Grey is remembered in Hawaii as a member of Reign, the Polynesian R&B vocal quintet that got off to a promising start here 10 years ago. Two other members of the group Kale Chang and Afatia Thompson have been active here since Reign disbanded. Grey now lives in California and returns to the local music scene with this five-song EP.
The general vibe is acoustic soul a guitar or two with a rhythm section, plus a touch of organ on a couple of numbers. Grey’s smooth and soulful vocal style makes his music a natural fit for mainstream easy-listening radio.
He opens with the title song, a philosophical anthem that reminds us that “everybody smiles in the same language” and encourages everyone to help make the world a better place before we “head up to the sky.” It’s a song that would be a perfect theme for a PSA campaign promoting peace and understanding in the community.
Grey is also a romantic with a sense of humor. “What She Needs” is an autobiographical account of how he met, wooed and won his wife, Miss America 2001 Angela Perez Baraquio. At times it’s humorous, at times it’s an honest love song about how he fell in love with a woman who already had almost everything she needed but lacked what he could give.
The general uncertainties of romantic attraction are also in play in “Broken Arrows” and “Is It Gonna Be You” both are well-written upbeat numbers that describe universal experiences. On the other hand, “Like 4 A.M.” describes an intimate romantic interlude in such vivid terms that friends of the couple may well feel like voyeurs.
“Better Place” is available at iTunes.
This group of indeterminate size there are 12 people on the cover, seven are named inside defies easy categorization. Some songs are firmly committed to the “sporkful of FUN!!!” promised on the cover. Others are whimsical commentaries on the impact of the Internet or tales of “talking canines” and dope-smoking concentration camp survivors. Think funk. Think ska. Think “garage band.” Think various genres of “underground” music and modern poetry.
The musical buffet opens with the group blending “the roots and the rock” in “Step Inside The Outside.” The arrangement shows their appreciation of funky James Brown riffs and appreciation of the soul horn bands of the ’60s and ’70s.
A hypnotic groove and memorable phrases are the keys to “Soul Surfer Shakedown” as the group describes ocean water as “holier than the Pope’s” and speaks for surfers everywhere when they admit to being “addicted to the surf like I am to a shower.” Lest they seem too spiritual, Family Dinner also slips in the familiar double entendre “pu’ inside.” Yes, surfing can be a sensuous activity, no doubt.
“Ulu,” the group’s ode to a dog who lives somewhere “overlooking Honolulu,” sounds like something Adam Sandler might have written. “Even when she’s muddy, she still looks clean,” the group sings, while the song’s rhythms conjure up visions of a zany music video of dogs dancing the tango.
“Rosh Pina,” the group’s description of a trip to Israel, includes rhyming the words “fog,” “synagogue” and “dog,” and an encounter with a “shoe-making drummer” who wears a flapping yarmulke. “Google It” takes the project off on another musical tangent with a story about someone named Mr. Whisper Tips and the modern solution to research:”Gigabyte it!”
Family Dinner also dabbles in original hapa-haole music. Hawaiian speakers will cringe at the pronunciation of what sounds like “wa-a-i-la,” but the group makes amends for any ruffled feathers with “No Ack,” a song about sharing the Aloha Spirit that includes the self-effacing lyric hook, “I’m not Hawaiian, but at least I’m tryin.”
—John Berger / firstname.lastname@example.org