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Few bands have so artfully and appealingly blended pop, R&B, jazz and world music over the past few decades as this East LA bred ensemble, which enters the new millennium with a set that draws on everything from old school soul to Les McCann to the Japanese traditions so dear to its heart. Heads Up will no doubt market this as a smooth jazz project, but only a few tracks are middle of the road enough to truly qualify. The best of these, the lilting and inspirational “Believe," balances Terry Steele's seductive soul vocals with the exotic touches of bandleader Dan Kuramoto's breathy alto flute and June Kuramoto's trademark koto. “Another Wish" also captures the dreamy side of their artistry. That's part of the secret of Hiroshima's success; even at their mellowest, there's still a feast for globally attuned ears. Then when they go funky, as on the horn driven “Shaka Phonk," there's always June's glistening strings floating beyond the groove. The disc begins with a tune (“Eternal Phoenix") that offers a colorful hodgepodge of all their best elements, from ancient chimes and flutes to hypnotic percussion, modern grooving and distant crunchy fusion guitars. The band has gone through various female lead vocalists but does even better with Terry Steele, who creates appealing updates of classic Isley Brothers and George Benson tunes. — Jonathan Widran

  1. eternal phoenix

  2. caravan of love

  3. shaka phonk

  4. believe

  5. revelation

  6. another wish

  7. i just wanna hang around you

  8. manzanar

  9. viven

  10. sanju

  11. seven rivers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/26/03

This L.A.-based group, which works traditional Japanese instrumentation into its laid-back electric funk and whose best-known tune is probably 1987's "Hawaiian Electric," has come up with a winner here. Wonder why this band, led by the former husband-and-wife team of Dan and June Kuramoto, who play woodwinds/synths and koto respectively, doesn't get much airplay on smooth jazz radio?

The dramatic, graceful, shuffling "Eternal Phoenix," with an "out" solo from pianist Kimo Cornwell, wastes little time in getting the listener into a head-bobbing groove, thanks in part to the acoustic bass of Dean Taba. Same with the equally enjoyable "Shaka Phonk," which features trumpet blasts from Dave Honjio and a fluid solo from Cornwell.

Im a sucker for a pretty melody, and "Another Wish," with alternating leads by the Kuramotos, Dan on synth, delivers one thicker than honey, possibly suitable for a Far Eastern-themed wedding. That sheer beauty is contrasted with an intense electric guitar solo from Fred Schreuders. "Believe" is a languid ballad featuring Dan Kuramoto on alto flute, flowing guitar work from Schreuders and a worshipful background vocal by Terry Steele.

The cover of "I Just Wanna Hang Around You," co-written by "Maniac" guitarist/vocalist  Michael Sembello and with Steele on lead vocal, sounds a little jazzier than George Benson's original rendition. Only the cover of the Isley Brothers' "Caravan of Love,"  Steele on lead vocal again, doesn't quite cut it.

-- Rick Nowlin 

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