Island Mele: Island symphonic sounds survive
‘Starry Night for String Orchestra’
The recent news that progress is being made toward establishing a new Honolulu symphony has inspired many suggestions regarding programs and promotions that might help the new group build a larger and broader audience than its predecessor. For instance, a program of symphonic arrangements of classic 19th-century Hawaiian melodies conducted by longtime Royal Hawaiian Band bandmaster Aaron Mahi would bring together Hawaiian and European-American musical traditions.
If the directors of the new symphony choose to feature works by Hawaii resident composers of symphonic music, this album by John Carollo shows there is material available and ready to go.
Carollo is not a newcomer to the field. His first album, “Ampersand,” was released without fanfare or promotion by an obscure label in 2006, but came out a winner at Johnny Kai’s Hawaii Music Awards the following spring, in a category that usually receives a “recognition” award for being the only entrant in the category.
Two albums later, with “Starry Night for String Orchestra,” Carollo’s work is being recorded by a Czech orchestra for a national label. The results offer thought-provoking work in a variety of instrumental configurations.
The title song is a brisk and breezy piece inspired, Carollo writes on his website, by the Vincent Van Gogh painting “Starry Night.” Others use a full orchestra or focus on other groups of instruments.
A sax quartet gets the spotlight on the aptly titled, “Moravian Sax in the Afternoon.” Violin, violoncello, piano and clarinet are featured on the series of six pieces that comprise “Quartet No.1: A Worded Grey Enigma.”
“Transcendence In The Age Of War,” arranged for concert band, brings the album to a rambunctious peak with a vigorous clash of martial themes. Carollo then comes full circle, returning to the opening string orchestra format for the final piece, “Nothing Shall Come of This.”
Perhaps, if the new Honolulu symphony looks outside the box, something shall indeed come of it.
Album sends political message
‘This Is Real’
Busekrus’ third professionally packaged CD is a milestone. The seven-song EP introduces a new roster: founding members Marcus Busekrus (guitar) and Mike Jones (drums) plus Demitri Marmarsh, who replaces Busekrus’ brother LJ Busekrus on bass. It should not be taken as a dis to LJ to note that Marmarsh proves worthy of the challenges involved in replacing him; Marmarsh was also a charismatic performer at the trio’s CD-release party at Hawaiian Brian’s Billiards last Friday.
As might be guessed by the cover art, there is strong political content here. A song titled “Revolution” speaks of a struggle for freedom against unnamed forces and the need to march “millions strong” to the capital and “right the wrong.” The hard-hitting pop-punk arrangement makes the song a one-size-fits-all anthem ready for use almost anywhere on the political spectrum. The guys then sharpen their focus with “Fear to Tread” as they sing of the need to rise up “from sea to shining sea” and let the “bell of Liberty … resound once again.”
A third song, “Battle of Thermopylae,” is a study in mixed metaphors. “Our spirit and our youth can’t lose,” they proclaim even as the title evokes memories of a battle in which “the people of the minority” were wiped out to the last man. On the other hand, the Greeks did eventually defeat the Persians, and the suicide of one man last December helped spark “impossible” changes across the Arab world.
But Busekrus isn’t all about politics. The guys also write love songs. The title song celebrates a “beautiful black sheep” whose beauty goes unappreciated by others — except the songwriter, of course. “I’m Holding On” is open to varying interpretations. The lyrics suggest a relationship with serious problems; the instrumental arrangement implies hope.
Busekrus gets into a completely different sound with the final track, an acoustic reworking of another original, “Oh So Sweetly.” They credit a guest guitarist and a violinist for the recording, but as performed live last weekend the instrumentation included cello and mandolin as well. Going acoustic reveals another side of their repertoire.
Singer soothes with tropical sense
(Ocean Planet Music)
Mono-monickered Yukialani shares six original snapshots of laid-back living with her six-song CD. Maybe she’s singing about living in Hawaii, maybe some other part of the world that has an ocean view, but a tropical feel is in play. Add Yukialani’s warm and soothing voice and this is music made for relaxing — or perhaps as an antidote to the stress of rush-hour gridlock.
Give her credit for being an imaginative lyricist. Consider the image of a pebble “drifting downstream,” for example. Leaves drift with the current, so do twigs and fallen blossoms, but the concept of a pebble “drifting” in a waterway takes the aptly titled “Pebble Song” away from conventional imagery.
In broader terms it is evident from the first song that Yukialani is a thinker, a romantic and a realist. The first two songs are slightly bittersweet in describing life lived as it comes with its ups and downs, and with relationships that could be better than they are but not so bad that they need to be written off. A flautist adds bright melodic embellishments — reminiscent of Michael Paulo’s work as a member of Kalapana — on a song titled “Beautiful Life.”Acoustic strings bring warm undercurrents elsewhere.
Two songs co-written with Country Comfort alumnus Eugene Matsumura stand out for different reasons. “The Wedding Day Song” is unreservedly about the joy of being in love and being loved, but the multitracked vocals and crisp percussion section also give the song a vitality that sets it apart from all the others. “Only Love” describes the search for love and commitment (“If you really love me, won’t you show me that you care?”) in an arrangement that is closer to classic cocktail lounge music than tropical or exotic. Here, too, a change of style adds depth and breadth to Yukialani’s musical calling card.
No question about it, Yukialani could move further into lounge music or maintain her cosmopolitan tropical focus.
“Beautiful Life” is available at CDBaby, Amazon.com and iTunes.