THE ALBUM -- Hiroshima (Arista AB 4252).; THE SHOW -- Saturday at 8 and midnight. Howard University's Cramton Auditorium.
There's no fission, but rather a calming fusion in Hiroshima's jazz. The nine-member band, Japanese-Americans, features jazz/rhythm & blues compositions that incorporate koto, the traditional Japanese harp-like instrument; bamboo flute and taiko drums. They'll bring that mix of East and West to Howard University Saturday for their first Washington concert. a
Any tragic associations with the group's title are not borne out by their breezy debut album. According to leader Dan Kuramoto, the name is intended to show "mankind is really an indestructible force." In any case, the instruments on their self-titled LP paint soft, almost mystical oriental texture over r&b backdrops. Publicity claims aside, their sound is unique in today's pop scene.
Koto passages by June Kuramoto are the album's most distinctive features. (Think of movie geisha-girl scenes and you'll recall the delicate twang instantly.) But the ancient instrument has never been presented so eloquently in modern mixed company.
Dan Kuramoto plays sax and flutes and writes most of the original material.
On the opening cut, "Lion Dance," he's created an airy jazz flight, uptempo with background humming, showcasing his wife's koto strummings. Throughout the LP, beautifully woven instrumental and vocal performances avoid the aimless meanderings of some jazz fusion releases.
Generally the lyrics are of only passing interest, melodic lines not to be scrutinized too literally. In "Roomful of Mirrors," the subject is fantasy and fulfillment: In a roomful of mirrors We can pretend who we can be A dancer in a top hat Or a captain of the sea . . . But it's cross-currents of koto tracks, heavy drumbeat, subdued electric guitar and Teri Kusumoto's soprano that make the cut a standout. Equally enchanting is the slow misty "Kokoro," on which the traditional Asian instruments (including percussive uchiwa and luke-like shamisen) create a tranquil mood.
Still, most cuts on the album are mainstream enough to be appreciated by jazz, rock and r&b audiences. Latin influences are mixed with exotic Far-Eastern touches on "Holidays"; the funkied "Never, Ever" is actually danceable.
Reportedly, the group is even more spirited before a live audience, opening with Kabuti theater-styled banging on the taiko drum, originally used to gather soldiers for battle. Hiroshima will no doubt release some positive energy this weekend, and the troops are expected to cram Cramton Auditorium.