Hiroshima (Jazz Group): June Kuramoto (koto); Dan Kuramoto (flute, shakuhachi, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, keyboards); Kimo Cornwell (piano, keyboards); Dean Cortez (bass instrument); Danny Yamamoto (drums); Shoji Kameda (taiko, percussion).
Additional personnel: Allen Hinds (guitar); Munyungo Jackson, Richie Gajate Garcia (percussion); DJ T-Rock (scratches).
Although the L.A.-based East-meets-West ensemble Hiroshima has achieved incredible success over the years -- including Emmy and Grammy nominations and over three million units sold -- it's one of the few bands that has always dared to defy easy commercial categorization. Aside from incorporating native Japanese elements like the koto (played masterfully by June Kuramoto) and booming taiko drum into the mix, Hiroshima has always embraced a subtle spiritual side. On the masterful, multi-faceted Obon, a release celebrating 25 years since its 1979 self-titled debut, these elements are more prominent than ever. Originating in Buddhist legend, the concept of Obon is a celebration of past and present, honoring ancestors and family and giving thanks for past blessings while looking boldly forward. The collection is a tribute to the musicians, places, and events that have inspired the band -- which, for the first time in its career, is working without a vocalist. Among these is Eddie Harris, a chief influence on band founder, saxman, and producer Dan Kuramoto -- who pays somewhat tonge-in-cheek homage to the legendary jazzman on the hypnotic opening number, "Swiss Ming," by merging his horn with a pitch shifter that lowers the register of the notes. Keyboardist Kimo Cornwell gets a chops workout on this track and other ultra-jazzy gems like "The Lighthouse," a tribute to a legendary Los Angeles area jazz club. "Atomic Caf‚," which blends R&B, jazz, koto, and cool DJ scratches, was a place for "the best noodles in town" in L.A.'s Japantown. "Pharoah" acknowledges the legendary Mr. Sanders and other jazz legends who shaped Kuramoto's visions early on. Fans seeking purer Asian delights can turn to "Kototsu-han (San Kyoku)," a dreamy number that blends the koto with the vocal-like wail of the Chinese er-hu. Band newcomer Shoji Kameda is aces on the taiko, adding an ominous percussive energy to "Obon Two-Five," a richly textured track that captures all the best elements that have made Hiroshima so fascinating for so many years. ~ Jonathan Widran