Archive for August, 2011

Island Sounds: A mixed bag of achievement

August 30th, 2011
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Aren’t you glad that some folks still favor classic CD releases, providing traditionalists a mixed bag of albums that you can hold in your hand instead of titles you simply download?
Old-style still works, if you ask me, so join the gallery and cheer on these recent entries:

Kaunaloa”
Kuana Torres Kahele
Hulu Kupuna Productions

Kuana Torres Kahele clearly has become this year’s best-selling Hawaiian artist with “Kaunaloa,” titled after the expression “to preserve, to carry on.” This is Island culture at work — apart from Kuana’s fine work with Na Palapalai and an extension of that cred — and his spirit of communicating with Hawaiian words and music is a vital stake in perpetuation. And he’s adopted the essence of local son communicator: sing what you know, sing what you love, sing what is meaningful.
Not since Keali’i Reichel has there been a trouper who meticulously cherry-picks his material, weighing both melody and words before making them a part of his repertoire.
Take “Waikahuli,” essentially a love song about a blossom journeying from afar (well, the Mainland) to Hawaii, related metaphorically with meanings left for imagination and interpretation; or “Pikake Anuhea,” another floral reflection about the rapid passage of time and the fragrance that evokes romance.
“Palisa” is Kuana’s take on his trip to Paris; there are other personal homages to places (“Keanakolu”) that live in his memory and people like his mom and dad (reflected on “Ke Anu O Waimea”).
Kuana even adds lyrics to the classic “Ulili E,” making a daring move with resourceful invention.
His vocal prowess embodies falsetto tones; the style is unabashedly Hawaiian, though there’s an instance of Spanish and vaqueros intervention that simply makes his stew of music robust with seasoning.
“Kaunaloa” offers plenty to applaud and embrace. For Kuana, this is a career breakthrough.

“Pegasis Rising”
Pegasis Rising
No label

Pegasis Rising, and its namesake CD, is a do-all, try-anything, play-everything group. That is its chief asset, but this could also be its major challenge: What is its identity? Its focus? Its target audience?
To its credit, the CD clearly is a labor of love and boasts a broad spectrum of styles, songs and formats. Edward S. Suzui is the go-to guy, composer of all nine tracks on a very under-rated, under-appreciated, under-exposed album of group tracks and solos (male and female). Makes me wonder: who are these voices, where are their faces? The CD lacks a bright photo identifying and introducing Pegasis.
“Wind on the Water” is delightfully and definitively country, with a germaine theme: “just listen to the voice of your heart.” It’s the most significant and satisfying tune — one that could give Pegasis that initial beep on the radar.
Similarly, “Whisper in the Night” is dusty journey down trails of Texas or Nashville or Countryville U.S.A., with snapshots of railroads, rodeos and romances.
“Jungle Music” is homogenized reggae, not the Jawaiian juice but a sweet panorama of nighttime merriment and magic, with that syncopated Jamaican/Caribbean beat.
“The Islands of Hawaii Are Calling” is Island country — not Hawaiian but contemporary aloha with a western undercurrent — rich in memories and details of local life.
There are a couple more tracks to explore.
The group features Rachel Kealani Jones, lead and backup vocals; Judy Mililani Keys, lead and backup vocals; Jorge Gonzalez, lead and backup vocals, keyboards; Robert Klaiss, lead vocals; Howard Komatsu drums; Edward S. Suzui, lead and rhythm guitar; and Eric Becera, bass guitar.
You might know Pegasis, or Suzui, for composing the theme song of Oceanic Cable’s “Ultimate Japan” show.

Ukulele Jazz”
Benny Chong
With Byron Yasui
No label

Benny Chong has been a background musician for years, best known as a member of The Aliis at the height of his popularity and more recently as a band musician for the late Don Ho.
He’s also been one of the town’s low-profile concert ukulele strummers, and here is joined by another career vet and longtime friend, bassist Byron Yasui, in a live-in-Hilo session. I mean, who goes to Hilo to do an album?
This is for the bona fide collectible fan. For trivia folks, Nathan Aweau — yeah, the Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winner and onetime Hapa hipster — mastered the session.
Nine cuts, separated by applause instead of introductory chatter, provide an intimate look, or listen, at Chong’s precision strummings. He shelves Hawaiiana — remember, his motif is jazz — so he has a field day with “My Funny Valentine,” “Satin Doll,” “The Nearness of You,” “Bewitched.”
And then there’s “Frosty the Snowman,” complete with an out-of-season introduction (and a few lines from “Jingle Bells” as a prologue). Surprisingly, this one’s the hippest, hottest, happiest treat. The uke goes to town; the bass ploughs through the snow. Frosty is frisky as ever.
So there. Go get your yuletide gift now; it will last forever.

“No Ku’uipo”
Ahumanu
Ulua Productions

Ahumanu is Liz Morales and Joni De Mello, who sing lead and harmony, on this seven-tune collection that provides a map of where they’ve been and where they’re going. There’s nostalgia and reflection, alongside hope and promise, and lots of good-time Island-style music.
Now a duo instead of a trio, Maui-based Ahumanu smartly explains in liner notes why it recorded each tune — and the reasons shape a tapestry of their collective lives.
Liz wrote “All of My Life” as a last-minute wedding gift to Joni; “Swingtime in Honolulu” (yes, the Duke Ellington oldie), was a titled they learned for a May Day program at a Kahului school; Joni wrote “Pohoiki” after an excursion to Kapoho on the Big Island; “Ha’o’u,” a place song, recalls Liz’s childhood memories of visiting tutuwahine and tutukane and remisniscing on the porch at Ha’o’u; “Vi’i o Lauli’i is another rollback in time, a Samoan ditty about the village where Liz’s mom grew up; the group’s most nahanahe Hawaiian entry is “Makalapua,” served with reflection of a family reunion.
Overall, there’s seasoned aloha and mana’o in the sharing; Ahumanu’s strength is the gentle but expressive harmonies best exemplified on Hawaiian tunes like “Makalapua.”

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Clooney's wet pants scheme; Jackman in 'Les Miz' film

August 27th, 2011
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Some startling stuff and casting gems on the net — and email:

By George, you’re wet!
Most folks would love to meet actor George Clooney, but are they willing to walk away with wet pants?
Heed the warning from actor Ryan Gosling, co-starring with Clooney in “The Ides of March.” He was embarrassed to learn that the crotchof his pants got soaking wet after chatting with Clooney.
No, it wasn’t a bladder problem. It was a practical joke by Clooney. “He will come up to you and tell you something serious, and then you walk away and you realize your pants are wet,” said Gosling.
Here’s the m.o., according to Gosling. Clooney gets the rapt attention of whomever he wants to wet; the conversation may become intense and when you least expect it, Clooney apparently sprays the “victim” downthere with a water bottle.
This kind of child play also is a kick for actor Johnny Depp, whose prank is to sound off a fart machine to cause embarrassment, and, er, fun. He did this with his “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” co-star, Penelope Cruz.
Sounds like the kind of giddy nonsense Ashton Kutcher subscribed to on TV’s “Punk’d.” Would you put up with a wet crotch to meet Clooney? ...

Broadway-bound
“Evita,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical that was a bit on Broadway (Patti Lupne was Eva Peron) and in film (but Madonna got the widescreen exposure), will return to the Great White Way in the spring of 2012.
The revival cast: Ricky Martin as Che Guevera, Elene Roger as Eva Peron and Michael Cerveris as Juan Peron.
Time to start singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” But would you go see this reincarnation on stage? ...

Jackman in new ‘Les Miz’ film
While there has been a big-screen adaptation of “Les Miserables,” it was based on the Victor Hugo novel, not the more popular Broadway-with-music mega-hit produced by Cameron Macintosh. Oscar-winning Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) will director.
Well, the new screen spectacle is in pre-production, with Hugh Jackson cast as Jean Valean, the protaganist, who will sing “Bring Him Home” and more from the score of Alan Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg (with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer).
Casting for other principals is not yet complete but there’s a lot of courting going around for Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, Geoffrey Rush for Thenardier, Helen Bonham Carter for Madame Thenardier, Amy Adams and Rebecca Hall for Fantine, and Hayden Panettiere, Miranda Cosgrove, Lucy Hale and Emma Watson for the roles of Eponine and Cosette. ...
Are these worthy contenders for one of the world's most popular musicals?

Golden oldies
“Greatest Hits by Heart” and James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” are among the collectible oldies to be reissued Sept. 6 ... on a 24 karat gold disc.
This pair of golden oldies join a growing list of numbered collectibles on Audio Fidelity. The hall of famers include Stevie Wonder, Carly Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, The Doobie Brothers and many more.
To buy, go to amazon.com or audiofidelity.net/24k gold. But would these 24k discs add value to the music? ...

Chinatown closures
Street closures can be a nuisance for residents, merchants and commuters, and the downtown Chinatown community will discuss some of the non-construction street closures in the Chinatown grid, at 3:30 p.m. Monday (Aug. 29) at the Hawaii Theatre.
“Recently, there have been questions from residents and merchants in our neighborhood regarding non-construction street closures (in the area),” said Burton White, general manager of the Hawaii Theatre and vice-chair of the Downtown Neighborhood Board. “Concerts include noise, notification of adjacent landowners and merchants, policies, guidelines and procedures,” he said.
Residents, merchants and government representations are invited to huddle and discuss and resolve the issue and help shape a balance of closures. ...
Do you support, or are you critical, of Chinatown street closures?

Vanishing restaurants: 10 more, and you add 10, too?

August 23rd, 2011
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OK, OK. We all cherish what we can’t get anymore.
Since blogging about restaurants that have disappeared over time, I got a bunch of emails challenging me to add at least another 10 to the list already shared. For certain, there are scores more places that have come and gone.
Here’s the deal: I’ve come up with 10 not previously mentioned, so now you do the same. In the end, we’ll have a mounting list of places that live only in memory. Maybe we can go another round later.
Here we go ...
• The Third Floor, the stellar iconic restaurant of the Hawaiian Regent Hotel (now the Marriott Waikiki Beach). This one set the high water mark for the likes of Alan Wong and Roy’s to follow; loved everything here; and this was where I discovered the joy of naan bread.
• Matteo’s, the fine dining Italian place, on Seaside Avenue, across the now-gone Waikiki Twin Theatres #1 and #2,
• Trattoria, the late Sergio Battistetti’s restaurant originally ensconced on Nohonani St. in Waikiki, relocating to the Edgewater Hotel before its closure to make way for what now is the Embassy Suites hotel at Waikiki Beach Walk.
• Captain’s Table, the eatery at the former Hawaiian Waikiki Beach Hotel, boasted a lounge that also featured music and comedy (Frank DeLima was among the lasting troupers). The space now is Tiki’s; the hotel is the Aston Waikiki Beach.
• Suehiro, the old-style Japanese restaurant, on King St., where Gyotaku now continues a modernized Japanese menu. Pork and chicken tofu were staples; and the ahi belly was one winnah, too.
• Wisteria, another old-fashioned Japanese (and American menu) eatery, where the hungry liked the hearty sukiyaki and pork tofu fare; 7-Eleven now occupies the space, at King and Piikoi Streets.
• Tree Tops, the early restaurant (and catering operation) at Paradise Park; it was just fun to dine amid greenery and chirping birds, in Manoa Valley. This was a case of the place making the good taste better.
• Chez Michel, the French wonderment by the late Michel Martin, at Eaton Square. He also operated Michel’s in Wahiawa and later at the Colony Surf Hotel, and was the go-to guy for French nourishment.
• Shanghai Bistro, the short-lived restaurant of Li May Tang, at Discovery Bay. The eclectic food fused flavors and traditions of China, Hawaii, Japan and Europe, depending on the selection, and the chic, hip décor was a hit...while it lasted.
• Duke Kahanamoku’s, the restaurant, nightclub and celebrity spotting hangout, in the International Market Place. The place was named for the renowned Olympian athlete and operated by the late impresario Kimo Wilder McVay; the dinners actually played second fiddle to the room’s top banana, entertainer Don Ho in all his glory, and it was a spot to catch a glimpse of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli and other glitterati of the era eager to sing and sway to “Tiny Bubbles” and swoon to “I’ll Remember You.
You remember these? Share your list of 10 more faves that have vanished.

The spin on restaurants: they come and they go...

August 21st, 2011
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Restaurants come and go; we moan the loss of a beloved fave eating place and see a newbie come along, and quite often, the new arrival shuts down again.
Such is life.
I applaud but don’t envy restaurateurs, who are, frankly, community heroes. They take such risks (even sweat out the good economy sometimes, so imagine the worst of times), tirelessly work days and nights, and prepare such wonderful cuisine to whet our appetites and keep our tummies filled.
Like clockwork, at least once a month, someone will ask and reminisce about a recently shuttered eatery. Or try to recall a long-gone restaurant whose obit had been widely chronicled.
Why? (Too many reasons, but generally finances and a weak economy).What happened? (You’ve got the time to hear ‘em all out? Again, too many variables: a family doesn’t want to work hard and prefer to enjoy retirement, or a place loses its lease and the owners don’t want to bother renewing at a higher rate, or nobody showed up to eat far too many nights).Will it ever come back? (The Ranch House did, sorta, but died again).

So consider this reflection an opportunity to dust off the memories to answer some recurring queries. The latest, from two sources: Where was Le Bon? Why was it popular?
Le Bon was the singing waiters/waitresses restaurant, located on Kapiolani Blvd. mauka side, between Keeaumoku and Sheridan Streets. The food was comforting, but the workaholic servers was the reason to go; many waiters and waitresses would also appear in community theater and the restaurant provided a salary while they sought roles that didn’t compensate for their talent.
Do I miss it? Yes. Singing servers are common in New York; they work to pay the bills in-between auditions to get a real job, on Broadway. The occasional serenades by the waitstaff at Romano's Macaroni Grill are not cut from the same cloth; the focus is on opera, where at Le Bon, the fare was largely musical comedies and standards.
Or have you forgotten?

I miss many other restaurants, in all regions of town:

Kahala area:
• Spindrifter at Kahala Mall. Good steaks, seafood and a dandy business lunch destination.
• Yum Yum Tree, where ono pies were must-haves after comfort food (the one at Ward Centre, now gone, wasn’t quite the same).
• Woolworth at Kahala Mall; counter and table service came with a smile, proviing not every meal had to be “fine” or upscale).

Kaimuki:

• Hank’s Café, on 11th Ave.; one of the many short-term home for the Makaha Sons of Niihau.
• The Pottery in Kaimuki; you could get a take-home clay pot with some of the entrees, baked in an on-site oven.

Ala Moana Center:

• Prince Kuhio Restaurant, one of the original restaurants at Ala Moana Center.
• Hackfield’s at Liberty House Ala Moana.

Waikiki:

• Coco's, one of the early 24-our eateries (where deejay J. Akuhead Pupule would hang out), where Hard Rock Cafe was a long-time tenant before moving to Beach Walk; Makino Clubhouse just moved into the gateway of Waikiki that was Kau Kau Korner.
• Skillet on Ala Moana, where breakfasts were hearty and served in ceramic skillets with handles.
• Waikiki Sands on Kalakaua Avenue, where “cheap” buffets gave locals a first opportunity to fill their plates along with their palates.
• Pier 7 at the Ilikai, another ‘round-the-clock destination for after-movie, after-nightclub, after-opera outings.
• Ship's Tavern at the Moana Surfrider, a seafood emporium; the adjoining Gangplank Lounge was the home of Jay Larrin, entertainer-composer.
• Canlis’ Restaurant, one of the early fine-dining palaces popular with locals and visitors, where waitresses wore kimonos.
• Maile Restaurant, at the Kahala Hilton, where fine dining gourmet cuisine also was served by waitresses in kimono; at the adjoining lounge, Kit Samson’s Sound Advice defined dance music.

Kapiolani area:

• Green Turtle across the now-gone KGMB; at lunch, you’d see on-air personalities during their meal break.
• Cavalier on Kapiolani Blvd. where the Pan Am building now is located.
• La Ronde, the revolving restaurant atop the Ala Moana Building, where you’d get a complete “turn” every hour.
• Victoria Station on Kapiolani Blvd (ewa of Tokudo), where steaks and chops were served from a red railroad box car “restaurant.”

Ward area:

• Trader Vic's, with its Souths Seas tropical décor, where the Honolulu Club now is located
• The Black Orchid at Restaurant Row, where celebrity was part of the game — Tom Selleck (“Magnum P.I.”) was an owner.
• Fisherman's Wharf at Kewalo Basin, one of the Spencecliff organization’s iconic (and longest-lasting, albeit under new owners in later years) waterfront restaurant.
• Compadres at Ward Center, where the margaritas flowed and the So-Cal Mexican menu was especially appearing on Taco Tuesdays. (Pablo’s Mexican Cantina had aspirations to carry on the red, green and white flag as a successor, but alas, the journey didn’t even make a year).
• Sunset Grill at Restaurant Row, where an open rotisserie added odorama to the dining experience, along with a splendid and afforded wine menu. And remember the roasted garlic?
• Marie Callendar's, at Restaurant Row; short-lived, like the Windward Mall location, possibly because entree portions here, even pies, were not as gargantuan as those Mainland counterparts.

Others Honolulu:
• Pearl City Tavern, home of the Monkey Bar. Worth the drive for townies.
• The counter at the Kress store on Fort Street.
• Ciro’s downtown, the place to be seen if dining downtown, when it still was a shopping destination before the era of the suburban mall.

Any others you care to add to the list? Be my guest...

Vinyl is final for those hungry for nostalgia

August 14th, 2011
By



Hungry Ear Records, which owes part of its legacy to the era of the long-playing vinyl records, will mark its 31st anniversary this week with a three-day sale Thursday (Aug. 18) through Saturday (Aug. 20).
The store, at 418 Kuulei Road in Kailua, will give away any five vinyl LPs — remember these oversized record albums, also called long-playing discs (33 1/3 r.p.m.)? — priced $4 or less for free (limit: one visit per customer). You’re talking hundreds of vintage (used) rock, soul, jazz, pop and hip-hop records, from the generation when albums were large (12 inch discs) with like-sized jackets with photo or graphics and liner notes you could read, unlike the miniaturized CD versions of the recent past and current times.
Hungry Ear owners Dennie Chong and Ward Yamashita, who are Kailuans who were employees at the record emporiums in their younger days, returned to the fold in 2008 to continue the store’s legacy. The sale is a means to thank the fans and friends of Hungry Ear over time.
“Hungry Ear is part of a dying breed of independent record store that thrives on the rabid music fan rather than the casual mall customer,” said Yamashita.
“We’re also glad to support local musicians, carrying their recordings and promoting their live shows,” said Chong. “We want our store to be a place where you can enjoy a couple of hours, talking and listening to good music, old and new.”
As part of its sale, the store, which also boasts new CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays, will offer 20 per cent discount for new product, and used recordings will be 30 per cent off. The inventory includes used classical and opera CDs at $1 a disc, meaning that a three-record opera set will be sold at $3. Hundreds of merchandise will be on sale for $1.
Think Borders or Barnes and Noble, without the coffee shop, without the national corporate office, without the fancy and flurry of racks of books, magazines and stationery components.
Hungry Ear is a spin-off of the traditional music store, from another time when folks bought singles and albums from a storefront shop, as opposed to ordering from an online source, and purchasing hard copies of musical recordings instead of downloading via YouTube to enjoy on iPods and iPads and computers.
Times and formats and habits have changed, but vinyl has been somewhat stable, enjoying periodic comebacks. Club deejays are credited with keeping the vinyl format a viable form of the biz.
Yamashita noted there’s a resurgence of interest and sales in vinyl product, with a short list of contemporary artists releasing latest projects both on old-fashioned/new-fashioned vinyl, as well as through favored online sources.
“There’s a wide range of customers buying albums now, from high school kids just discovering the beauty of the format to the older crowd who bought records in their youth and are still drawn to the sound, graphics and even smells that only come from a vinyl record album,” said Yamashita.
The vinyl component at Hungry Ear can include titles that will fetch $500, if highly prized and rare, with budget LPs in the $2 to $4 range. Like a old record or old book sale, the joy is in the discovery of a prized title, and Hungry Ear’s collection runs the gamut, from hard-to-find rockery and reggae rhythms to Hawaiian titles that are out of print, or hard rock and jazz favorite recovered from a swap meet to await a new home in the used bin.
Used doesn’t necessarily mean a scratchy disc, said Yamashita. “We feel that the sound quality of a record that was well cared for will often outshine the sound of its CD equivalent.”
And Chong said newbies discovering the ways of vinyl include “teenagers buying their first Beales album (and) older professional types.”
Equipment to play the old LPs are frequently available at affordable prices, too, with multi formats, to listen to CDs and cassettes, as well as vinyl 45s and 33 1/3. A few updated phonographs also offer a 78 r.p.m. option, though availability of these discs is rare — unless you know someone who has box of really old oldies in a dusty box.
The rebirth of vinyl also is bring new respect for the old form. “In its heyday, a record was thought of as a work of art, both musically and graphically, and not just a piece of product,” said Yamashita.
These days, many music fans don’t even get to physically touch a recording, since they don’t buy a physical disc at a record shop that also is a dying breed. Think Borders going out of business as an example and the dwindling selection of CDs and DVDs available at such big box merchants as Costco.
Information: Hungry Ear Records at 262-2175.