Dennis Pavao,
Keiki Kupuna
(Mountain Apple, 2004)

Dennis Pavao first came to fame in the 1970s as part of Hui Ohana, the foremost Hawaiian falsetto trio that also featured his twin cousins, Ledward and Nedward Kaapana. After the band split up, Pavao went on to pursue a successful solo career. His singing (in both normal register and falsetto) has set benchmarks for others to follow. Now the project he was working on shortly before his passing at the age of 50 in 2002 has become available -- and what a legacy he has left with this album.

"Keiki" are the children who represent the future, "kupuna" are the elders who came before. Pavao's recording bridges the generations, bringing together 11 tracks to present a fine cross-section of his performance: strong vocals, including his powerful falsetto; his ability to choose varied material that flowingly suits his approach; attractive arrangements which bring his voice to the forefront of the recording.

Whether singing in English or Hawaiian, he creates warmth and comfort. The album opens with a reflection on Hawaiian life: "Kupuna (Elders)" tells of the songs, food and the land and how things have changed over time. Pavao's voice expresses hope for the future. The simple accompaniment provided by ukulele, guitar and bass, enhances the feeling.

Throughout the album, he plays Tahitian ukulele and guitar. Kalamu-Ku Koanui is ever-present on bass and steel guitar, Amberleigh Pavao adds ukulele; and both musicians add vocals along with Misty Pavao and Joseph Kainana.

The album presents some classic songs, such as the gentle "Keiki Mahine" along with his effective interpretation of "My Darling" (not an easy song to make work!) as well as others I have not heard before.

Hawaiian music has long had a special relationship with jazz, incorporating some tremendous chord progressions and voicings, and "Mahina O Hoku" shows this to perfection. Pavao has the voice that can handle everything from traditional Hawaiian to country to nightclub music, and he delves into each of these genres with great success and obvious enjoyment.

The atmospheric bilingual "Love Song of Kalua" (with its intricate arrangement, something of an exception on the recording) is the crowning glory of the album; the song hauntingly lingers on long after the CD has stopped playing, leaving wonderful memories of a wonderful singer and a wonderful album.

Dennis Pavao was truly one of the most important and most enjoyable Hawaiian musicians in recent times. Keiki Kupuna, which he produced along with his wife Leialoha (with Jon de Mello as executive producer), is a wonderful, entertaining gift he has left behind which will please all who know him and inspire those who only now have come to discover his work.

by Jamie O'Brien
24 December 2005

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