George Kahumoku Jr. & Bob Brozman,
Kani Wai: Sound of Water
(Kealia Farm, 2009)

The opening strains bring it all back, the first time I heard traditional Hawaiian music: the sliding warmth of Bob Brozman's Weissenborn slide guitar, the enveloping 12-string slack key and calm vocals of George Kahumoku Jr.

The album opens with "Waikapu," a song about the winds on Maui, but neither musician is content to be predictable. After playing a gentle round, they switch for the last 90 seconds to a bouncing, almost jolly interpretation of the song. There are many routes to explore while respecting the tradition and culture of the music they play; they constantly search for new expressions and avenues of playing.

Kahumoku has performed with blues harmonica players, Mexican harpists and Celtic musicians, among others; Brozman's list of credits with music from all continents is endless. Yet this pairing seems to bring out the best in each other, as shown on their earlier collaborations -- they've recorded together on many occasions since Kahumoku began his association with Dancing Cat Records in the 1990s -- but this is their first duo album. One is left wondering why it's taken so long!

For the 10 songs and three tunes they've selected, they've delved deeply into the Hawaiian repertoire. There are Islands standards, such as "Meleana E," "Lei Ohu" and "Na Ali'i," along with others that may be less familiar to mainlanders. They even revisit and refresh Kahumoku's "Mauna Kea Mosquito" (written with his brother and now substantially developed into "Another Mosquito").

Every track is performed with not just tightness and understanding, but also warmth and inventiveness. Leads are shared and never crowded out as they give each other space to develop themes and ideas. They respond so well to one another.

Naturally for them, they have spiced up the sound. They feature a couple of guests, and what interesting, appropriate guests they are: violinist Gordon Burt and kora player Peter Burtt. Burt is a tremendously sensitive accompanist, providing an easy, almost steel-guitar sounding complementary harmony. Burtt comes more to the fore, adding the almost harp-or-hammered-dulcimer sound of his African instrument, matching Brozman's Hawaiian-style slide guitars and Kahumoku's slack-key guitar.

The liner notes provide detailed information on the 13 pieces, along with instrumentation and tunings used. Kahumoku and Brozman have captured the essence of this music with their interpretations.

review by
Jamie O'Brien

19 December 2009

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