Birchmere Music Hall
April 12, 2014, 7:30 PM
A refreshing spring night welcomed the world renowned band Hiroshima to the jam-packed Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA this night. I am talking about a concert filled with emotion, fun, and passion as the legendary band performed many of their tunes, filling the venue with mystical melodies and hypnotic sounds that easily captured the imagination of the audience.
Showcasing tracks from their latest release J-Town Beat and several previous releases, the band graced the stage, for starters, with the presence of original members such as the charismatic band leader and composer Dan Kuramoto (flutes, saxes, and keyboards), the lovely June Kuramoto (koto), and drummer/percussionist Danny Yamamoto. Additionally, over the years, the band, known for its culturally diverse East-Meets-West approach to contemporary jazz, has done exceptionally well to add the illustrious Kimo Cornwell on keyboards and synthesizers and bassist Dean Cortez. Take a ride with TSJR for a marvelous evening of contemporary and fusion jazz as you read on about this iconic group’s amazing performance.
Yamamoto opened with a traditional Japanese-style percussion intro, complete with powerfully inspiring and loud monosyllabic vocal proclamations, resembling a ritualistic call of sorts — a forceful demonstration that simply stayed with you. This led to the wonderful “Obon” a track from the 1987 Go album, which ultimately became the title of the group’s 2005 release. The song captures the very essence of the signature East-Meets-West contemporary jazz sound for which the band is so well known, and clearly brings to mind a vision of passion and energy with every note.
“Red Beans and Rice,” a funk-laden track from the 2007 Little Tokyo album, kept the fans grooving in their seats with Cornwell’s powerful keyboard solo, Yamamoto holding it down hard on drums, Cortez’s funky bottom, and leader Kuramoto’s bright sax work. The poetic strumming of the ancient and enchanting koto by the lovely and mega-talented June Kuramoto always provides that wonderful Far East backdrop, and it did so splendidly here, as well. I would certainly agree with legendary bassist Stanley Clarke that she is truly the world’s best koto player. Stay with me as I journey into how she lights up the stage later in the show.
Slowing down the tempo a bit, “Turning Point” from the 2009 Legacy album featured multi-instrumentalist Kuramoto on flute and koto wiz June. The chemistry they exhibited was as refreshingly alluring as the ever-changing low exotic lighting during the seductive song.
The band then easily transitioned to their next mid- tempo jams, “Koto Cruise,” from the Departure project and the ultra-funky “Da Kitchen” from the current J-Town Beat album. The latter’s motivation has a mouth-watering story behind it as Dan Kuramoto described a menu item called Loco Moco from an oceanside lunch place in Cornwell’s Hawaii. The plate consists of rice, two hamburger patties, and two sunny-side-up eggs, all topped with fresh mushroom gravy –where’s my plate?? ) Of course, the tunes perfectly connected with the already fired-up jazzers.
“Things Unsaid” from 1999’s Between Black and White CD sweetly mellowed the fans and the atmosphere once more, leaving all in a dreamy state.
Some of the highlights – and I stress some – were their tribute to the late George Duke, the late Wayne Henderson, and Joe Sample on the soulful “State of Mind” — a touching moment offering much respect for these top-tier artists who inspired the group.
June Kuramoto, the koto princess, introduced “Thousand Cranes” from the 1989 East album — one of my favorites — and totally mesmerized the audience with this beautiful and haunting piece. The track is dedicated to a little girl named Sadako who fell victim to the “A” bomb and died 10 years later of leukemia. A children’s book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, was later written and has been published in many places and schools in peace education programs. Needless to say, Kuramoto’s interpretation of this is most moving, and the thirteen strings and thirteen bridges of the mystical koto speak all of the words necessary.
The finale, “One Wish,” from the 1986 Another Place, rocked us – and I mean rocked us — all into the night. What a majestically potent way to close out a concert totally based in sprit and energy. Hiroshima has always rocked, and I have every reason to believe it always will! – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
From Ronald Jackson, The Smooth Jazz Ride President
On that following Monday, the group offered a free performance in the SiriusXM studios in Washington, DC. TSJR was extremely fortunate to be part of the guest studio audience. Nothing short of exhilarating were that hour-long performance and the intimate chats that followed. I can speak from the heart without reservation when I say that this band is not only one of the best performing acts ever to grace contemporary jazz – or any music genre – but is an exceptionally warm, humble, and lovely group of people. They perform music that projects warmth, love, diversity, and peace. They practice that at their core, as well, and we are so very pleased and humbled to be able to call them “friend.”
We also extend many thanks to John Chung of the Hiroshima team and the SiriusXM team, especially Trinity Colon and Jacqueline Hall, for accommodating us in such warm fashion.