CD Review: IN THE SADDLE
This album represents Led Kaapana and Bob Brozman second recorded collaboration and follows numerous live performances and tours together. The lesson you learn here is that the more you play together, the closer you get. The pair join forces in such a dynamic way that even knowing the different sounds of their instruments, you'll not hear the seams, there are no joints. Each seems to know instinctively where the other is going.
Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar
Led Kaapana comes from the Big Island of Hawaii, from a family noted over the years for its musical talents. He sings with a gentle yet powerful voice and is adept in the falsetto style. His slack key guitar playing is equally moving as he ranges from a laid back, easy approach to the more bluesy end of Hawaiian music. One moment, his sounds drift like a warm, scented breeze, capturing the tropical beauty of the islands; the next, he revels in a swirling waltz, lifting you under star lit skies.
Similarly, New Yorker Bob Brozman is a master of his chosen instrument - the slide guitar. On this album, he uses a number of different models and styles, including a couple of National steel guitars and a 1927 Weissenborn among others. Along with slide playing, this album also features his first recorded ventures with slack key playing.
The two play busily, but are constantly aware of the other. While Led might take a lead, Brozman dances in the background, playing pizzicato, deadening strings, or adding a resonating texture with a sweeping chord sequence. And then there are the moments when each musician veers into a new realm, improvising around the theme while enhancing and complementing the other's playing.
Different tunings are a major characteristic of Hawaiian music, with each setup providing a different approach to the playing. Kaapana tends to favor the G Major Tuning, though he uses a number of others here and there. (The thoughtful notes in the accompanying booklet detail not only the background to the tracks, but also the chosen instruments and the tunings used, something surely appreciated by all budding guitarists.)
Throughout, they search for new sounds within the structure of slack key playing. For almost six minutes, they build images on Kukuna O Ka La , the sounds echoing and drifting through the air, until they reach a climax where for a few measures they deaden their strings and pick muted notes to perfection, echoing the haunting introduction. Wai'alae Waltz , a tune based on a melody brought to the island by Spanish workers a century ago, is filled with slides, harmonics and tight harmonies, but acquires an exotic feel by the accompanying tablas played by Subhashis Bhattacharya.
The versatility of the ukulele is shown on the title track. While Brozman demonstrates his ability on slack key guitar, Kaapana on his eight-string tenor ukulele creates a sound which is somewhere between harp, charango and mandolin. Cascades abound from each instrument in this effervescent melody composed by the pair.
At an hour and 10 minutes, the album might seem long ... until you listen, that is. Each tune is given time to evolve. Each musician is given the space to develop thoughts and feelings. As this album shows, 70 minutes in fact can be a very short time. The pair delve into a number of approaches to Hawaiian music, never sacrificing the integrity, still pushing the boundaries. There are 11 instrumentals and only two songs - 'only' because Kaapana's voice leaves you wanting more - mostly older or traditional pieces, with three they wrote themselves.
They glide effortlessly from older to more modern styles, from the hula to the blues, touching on other sounds en route. Led Kaapana and Bob Brozman are more than good musicians and their playing shows that the music of Hawaii is more than simple vacation entertainment.
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