Spirit of the Season
(Heads Up, 2004)
Upon an initial listening, it may seem that Spirit of the Season starts off weak. When listening to Hiroshima's first holiday album, don't confuse "weak" with "understated" or "controlled." It's not so much a disciplined type of control, just an intentional reservation that produces a subtle soothing atmosphere. (In other words, this isn't a "roll out the barrels" Christmas album.)
The main shortcoming on this album is the vocals, specifically the lead vocalist Terry Steele. It seems he sings with a hesitancy, perhaps attempting to match Hiroshima's careful intentionally guarded performance style. Even on "Silent Night," when he's kind of letting loose, it still seems like he's holding back. He's got a strong voice that would doubtless work well with other groups, but it doesn't seem properly suited to Hiroshima's style.
The album starts off with the title track, but it's not indicative of the rest of the album. It's a sentimental song with nice lyrics and instrumentals (especially Dan Kuramoto's tenor sax), but doesn't quite congeal. The next track, an instrumental "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," more accurately relays Hiroshima's combined, controlled strength. The percussion/rhythm section lays smooth groundwork for the horns, resulting in a very nice arrangement.
Not only are there some holiday favorites (such as "Little Drummer Boy," "White Christmas" and "Silent Night"), there are also some great original compositions. "Listen (to the Falling Snow)" is a great example of the understated strong performance style of Hiroshima. Even though Kuramoto's tenor sax could completely (and perhaps justly) take center stage in this song, it comes in strong yet doesn't detract from the background/supportive elements. Other original tracks that really deserve a listen include "Peace on Earth" and "Thousand Cranes."