Sounds of the season
“Lei Kulaia” Napua Greig
After releasing a couple of Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning albums, Maui’s Napua Greig celebrates the holiday season with her latest CD, “Lei Kulaia.”
“Christmas is a time that everyone enjoys,” Napua explains. “It’s a time that families come together. I love Christmas music.”
As befitting as the title, which means to adorn festively, this acclaimed musician and kumu hula has compiled a festive treat that features both Hawaiian and English language songs, and traditional and more contemporary favorites. But unlike other seasonal fare, the album opens with a potent Hawaiian chant dedicated to Lonoikamakahiki, the god of peace and fertility.
“For Hawaiians, this is the time of the arrival of Lonoikamakahiki,” she notes. “I felt I needed to start that way because that’s who I am; I am Hawaiian.”
Some of the songs she remembers enjoying in her childhood. “A bunch have been my favorites since when I was a young girl,” she recalls. “I used to listen to my mom and her brothers and sisters singing ‘C is for The Christ Child.’ And ‘The Christmas Song’ is my all-time favorite Christmas song.”
Raised Upcountry, she has a fondness for country music, expressed here with a pedal steel guitar embellished version of “Blue Christmas,” popularized by Elvis. She includes a lovely Hawaiian version of “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” with “Ka Po La’ela’e,” and to close “Lei Kulaia,” Napua sings the touching gospel song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” which she performed at her father’s funeral two years ago.
“It’s full spectrum,” she concludes. “There’s a chant and a gospel song, a nonreligious song and a religious Christmas song, songs from every kind of genre.”
As a bonus, 12 random CDs include Golden Tickets which can be redeemed for gifts of special Hawaiian crafts.
Napua Grieg and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka will perform at 7 p.m. Friday at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.
Two of our virtuoso musicians, Nathan Aweau and Jeff Peterson, have combined talents to record and tour as the duo Mamo. As explained in the CD liner notes, “mamo” is defined as a “descendant, an adherent who follows closely the teachings, methods, practices, of an earlier master.”
Both Nathan and Jeff are highly accomplished at their art, having grown up absorbing the music of some of Hawaii’s legends. Nathan’s career has been distinguished by time as a bassist/vocalist with Don Ho and HAPA and the release of a few great, solo Hoku award-winning albums. Jeff has similarly established a stellar career as a solo artist with a number of exceptional, award-winning albums and as a guitarist/producer with Amy Hanaiali’i.
Mixing traditional standards with original compositions, their remarkable work will undoubtedly earn them more Hoku awards next year. Along with some of Jeff’s original compositions, the duo interprets some hula standards with subtle jazz embellishments.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work together over the past year and a half,” says Jeff. “The concept for the CD was to take a lot of popular hula songs and reinterpret them with different arraignments and influences of jazz and contemporary music. I’ve never done a project like this before. It was a lot of fun. Working with Nathan is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
Just from hearing the first two songs, one realizes they’ve produced a marvelous treasure. The sparkling energy of the original opening track, “Hawai’i Nei,” which conveys their love for the islands, has all the makings of a new classic in the vein of “Home in the Islands” or “Honolulu City Lights.” Then comes a gorgeous version of Mary Kawena Pukui’s and Kahauanu Lake’s “Pua Lililehua,” enhanced by Nathan’s beautiful falsetto and deft bass and slack key guitar interplay (including a descending bass pattern ala the Beatles).
Some of the creatively reimagined traditional songs covered include “Noho Paipai,” “Ulupalakua,” “Makee Ailana” and “Henehene Kou ‘Aka,” which is transformed with a swinging groove. And their version of “Hawai’i Calls” is especially impressive.
“The concept of the album is coming from a little bit more of a jazz background and interpreting some of the Hawaiian standards,” Jeff continues, “and also doing some slack key pieces like ‘Na ‘Oiwi O Ke Kai,’ where I was thinking about Nathan and the way he plays bass, which definitely transformed the song.”
Nathan and Jeff have a Japan and West Coast tour coming up; and we can expect another recording collaboration from this dream duo. “We’ve already got ideas for another album,” Jeff notes.
Jeff Peterson and Nathan Aweau will perform at the “Masters of Hawaiian Music” series Jan. 29 at the Napili Kai Beach Resort.
“I Wish Christmas Was Everyday” Henry Kapono
“I love Christmas because it brings families and people together,” says Henry Kapono. “It’s a wonderful time of year that brings out the good in us all, and I wish it could last forever.”
With that image in mind, Henry has just released a Christmas collection featuring a bunch of classics and a couple originals, including the catchy title song, which offers an uplifting message for the holidays. “We need reminders that we’re alive, and we can enjoy the life we have,” he adds.
Primarily just his voice and guitar, the album feels like you’re hanging out at an intimate solo concert with the legendary artist.
“My initial concept was I wanted to keep it simple like I’m in somebody’s living room,” he explains. “It’s just me and my guitar, and then I added a few percussion things to spice it up and keep it interesting.”
Favorites he covers include “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Mele Kalikimaka” and “The Night Before Christmas.” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” gets a fun, rockabilly twist, while “Silent Night” is transformed into a moving prayer.
Other highlights include a unique, bluesy take on “Little Drummer Boy,” titled “Guitar Boy,” the “Symphony of the Bells” instrumental, and the powerful new tune, “Love is the King of Kings,” with its echoes of Elvis and acoustic Led Zep. “I almost feel like Elvis Presley when I sing, ‘Love is the king of kings,’ ” he says, laughing.
Henry Kapono will play from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Duke’s Beach House at the Honua Kai Resort in Kaanapali.
“Live in New York City” Joe Caro & The Met Band
Well-known guitarist on New York City’s music scene, Joe Caro moved to Maui a few years back and released his first solo CD, the impressive “Home Alone,” in 2011. Recorded almost entirely at his home studio in Haiku, it featured contributions from some major players.
Before landing in Hawaii, Joe had recorded or toured with many leading artists including Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Sheryl Crow.
Now he has an exciting, new album out: a live recording of a club show in New York with a bunch of notable friends performing his original material and covering a few classics.
“I used to play in this club called the Metropolitan Caf every Tuesday night, and it became this underground hang,” Joe explains of the project’s genesis. “A lot of session players and producers would hang out, and guys from KISS and Slash and Steely Dan guys. Then I came here, and the club closed. Then a couple with a record label asked if I’d be interested in resurrecting the band and doing a couple of gigs.”
Music industry veterans onboard include saxophonist Randy Brecker (Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder), keyboardist Clifford Carter (James Taylor), drummer Anton Fig (Bob Dylan, B.B. King), bassist Conrad Korsch (Rod Stewart, Carole King), saxophonist Lou Marini (Blues Brothers, Steely Dan) and trumpeter Lew Soloff (Blood, Sweat and Tears).
“We didn’t even do a sound check,” Joe continues. “Everyone played well, and the band sounded good.”
Opening with a blazing version of “Labor of Love,” recorded by Robert Cray on his “Midnight Stroll” album, Joe and his bandmates have fun stretching out on classics like Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” and Ray Charles’ funky “Mary Ann.” Always a showstopper, Joe’s brilliant take on the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” would make Jeff Beck smile. And among the guitarist’s original compositions, the 11-minute blues/fusion, “Upper East Side Blues,” gives the musicians plenty of space to solo.
“With covers we’d try and do something with them that was different from the original or the way everyone else played them,” he notes. “Instead of doing ‘Seventh Son’ as a regular blues thing, we took it to another place.”
Since the album’s release, plans are being set for more gigs, including some festival spots this summer. “Everyone in the band is gung ho about doing more stuff,” he says. “It would be great if the band could make it here.”