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The Pacific, including Philippines, Tahiti and Hawai'i

Ray Kane

Cyril Pahinui & Bob Brozman
Four Hands Sweet & Hot

Led Kaapana & Friends
Waltz of the Wind
all: Dancing Cat (

The music of Hawaiian slack key guitar has been alternately described as a soundtrack of a departed soul's journey into the after life or the Garden of Eden with Musak. Both descriptions are accurate. Seventy-three year old Ray Kane has been playing since the thirties, and has retained much of the older influences he was weaned on. His style is relaxing and fluid; gorgeous melodies strike a gentle balance with subtle, thumb-accented rhythms. There's no sense of urgency here, as strings ring together in harmony. Nine of the fourteen songs have Hawaiian vocals; the last two are duets with Kane's wife Elodia.

The Pahinui-Brozman project is the meeting of two legends. Cyril Pahinui hails from the royal family of slack key. (His father Gabby waxed the first recording in 1946.) Steel guitarist Bob Brozman is not only widely known in acoustic circles but a scholar and author as well. Some mainlanders have a bias against steel guitar in Hawaiian music (they say it recalls music for the tourist trade), but there's nothing cheesy here. Brozman's glissandos and slides hover around Pahinui's intricate picking. The predominantly instrumental material consists of the influential twenties and thirties tunes Brozman cut his teeth on and selections from Gabby Pahinui's repertoire.

Led Kaapana's latest effort suggests what happens when the music of Hawaii intersects the mainland. Like Kane and Pahinui, Kaapana is also a revered golden-fingered guru and a delightful host to his guests which include bluegrass giants Stuart Duncan, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, and Alison Krauss. Additionally, there's an enjoyable ragtime piano duet with label honcho George Winston while two other tracks feature the omnipresent Brozman on steel guitar and a 1929 Gibson Archtop. It's a good starting point for the uninitiated but personally the high point for me was the two Sonny Landreth slide guitar cuts, the Cajun "Les Flammes d'Enfer" and the Hawaiian "Ku`u Ipo Onaona." Now, that's paradise. - Dan Willging

Utom: Summoning The Spirit

These field recordings were made in the southwestern reaches of the Philippines in 1995, and they present the music of the T'boli people, an indigenous group of about 80,000 people. It reveals the music of their work, their rituals and their play time in clear recordings with no obvious interference by the recording process. It opens with three pieces for a lute called hegelung. They are nature related songs that mimic the insects, the birds, and in the last piece, a dancers shuffling feet. There are bamboo zithers, shaman's flutes, bowed and plucked strings, gongs and epic voices. If there's a standout track, it comes late in the set with "The Harp Of Heaven," a swinging solo on a vibrating bamboo mouth harp. Well recorded, with a well documented and illustrated booklet, this is the way "ethnomusical" adventures should be. - CF

Cyril Pahinui
6 & 12 String Slack Key
Dancing Cat / Windham Hill

This is a fine album for lovers of any style of acoustic guitar music. Cyril is the son of Gabby Pahinui, one of the most famous slack key guitarists in Hawaii. While Cyril follows the family tradition, he also breaks out of the strict slack key mold to bring some swing, pop and jazz to his sound, mixing them in such a way as to never lose the Hawaiian feel of the instrument while making new music emerge. There's nothing earth-shattering here, just excellent playing by one of the best in the business, straight with no extra instruments or studio dubbing. - CF

In the Name of Love
Coconut Grove Records

Hawaiian music is one of those quirky world-music hybrids that is rarely appreciated outside of the Islands. Largely because much of the best work is confined to small local labels that receive little distribution.

Hapa is one such Hawiian group that has made the literal crossover, released recently by a Florida-based record company. The word "hapa" means "half" in Hawaiian, as in the slang expression, "hapa Haole," meaning, "half White," which describe the offspring of a mixed racial marriage. Hapa, the group, is also a mixed-marriage of Western music and the Hawaiian hybrid, a cooperative effort between Barry Flanagan and his partner Keli'i Kaneali'i. Through most of the album, the marriage works. The album opener "E Hele Ana E" thunders with drums and guitars, which carries the energy through most of the album.

But that aloha-spirit unravels in the end, especially with the U2 cover "In the Name of Love," which seems to throw in every production trick imaginable, but offers nothing in interpretation. Don Ho is later imported in to duet with a Flanigan original, "The Waikiki Beachboy Song," that appears written for the bad-alhoa-wear-geriatric-tourist crowd, but seems terribly misplaced on this album. Hapa offers itself up as a modern day Beamer Brothers or Celcilo & Kapono, but their sound lacks direction this time out. - Wayne Whitwam

Bob Brozman and Ledward Kaapana are both more than reputable in their own fields of guitar music, but together they offer something special on Kika Kila Meets Ki Ho'alu (Dancing Cat, via Windham Hill). Brozman's slide work has made him a legend among acoustic guitar players, and his career has included plenty of forays into both genuine and hilariously ersatz Hawaiian music. Kaapana is legendary as well, having been one of the foremost revivalists of the slack key guitar as well as a popular session musician in places like Nashville. Together they work some slow, sophisticated island music and a few dazzling show pieces that remind the listener that they are not bound by the various traditions they come from. - CF

Rurutu Choir
Polynesian Odyssey

Recordist and traveler Pascal Nabet-Meyer continues his explorations of the South Pacific with his latest recordings of this unusual vocal music . Once again that strange mix of ancient polyphonic singing and Euro-Christian choral traditions provides a powerful sound. These are not folk songs, but original works created for a formal choir, and their beauty will remind the listener of Gregorian chant or the magical first recordings of "Les Mystere des Voix Bulgares." The liner notes depict a curiously Euro-centric, pastoral version of the European takeover of the Tahitian Islands, but the music speaks of the strength and perseverence of human culture. - CF

Arhoolie brings back the guitars of Hawai'i on two long playing CDs, Early Hawaiian Classics by Kalama's Quartet and another set of Hawaiian Steel Guitar Clasics 1927-1938. The Kalama's Quartet set features 26 tracks from the late 20's and early 30's, from smooth and sweet harmoniy vocals to some stomping, rollicking steel string boogie. The steel guitar set is a who's who of Hawaiian music: Kalama, Sol Hoopi, Hoot Gibson, Roy Smeck, and King Benny Nawahi, to name a few. - CF

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