There are Obon festivals all over Japan and even in Los Angeles during July and August. Originating in Buddhist legend, Obon is a time to remember the ancestors, relatives and friends who have died. Filled with reverence and gratitude, it’s also an occasion to raise the spirit in celebration.
In tribute to the musicians, places and events that have inspired the band. This is Hiroshima’s first instrumental record. Obon also marks the 25th year of the Asian American jazz ensemble’s recording career and the 60th anniversary of the imprisonment of the Japanese during WWII.
"When you think about Obon there’s a sense of being uplifted," says multi-instrumentalist Dan Kuramoto, the band’s co-founder and leader. "You are in solemn rememberance, but you can also have a good time. It’s like a gift."
The eleven original compositions on Obon offer a globe-embracing balance of reflection and celebration. After opening with a gong, Hiroshima’s jazz roots come to the fore on "Swiss Ming," inspired by the classic Les McCann/Eddie Harris album Swiss Movement and Chef Ming Tsai, host of the cooking show Simply Ming on public television.
According to Dan Kuramoto, he and bassist Dean Cortez wrote "China Latina" for the group’s co-founder, June Kuramoto, "a girl from Japan, raised in Los Angeles and trained as a classical kotoist, who made her dream of integrating music and cultures together a reality." Featuring June Kuramoto on koto, Karen Hwa-Chee Han on er-hu and Kenny Endo on tsutsumi hand drum, the hypnotic groove of "Kototsu-Han (San Kyoku)" works traditional Asian instruments into Hiroshima’s laid-back electric funk in a totally modern way.
While the late night vibe of "Atomic Café" recalls a ‘70s hangout in LA’s little Tokyo district, "Obon Two-Five" celebrates the group’s 25th anniversary, spotlighting June Kuramoto’s delicate koto playing and Shoji Kameda’s booming taiko drum.
June Kuramoto’s "One Thursday Morning" reflects on the week gone by and the weekend coming up, and "Paris (Ici avec Moi)" is her lullaby to the City of Light. Other highlights include "Mr. Robben," keyboardist Kimo Cornwell’s tribute to Nelson Mandela, "Pharoah," dedicated to jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and "The Lighthouse," a nod to the legendary jazz club in Hermosa Beach, California, which was a center for west coast jazz in the 1950s.
Obon closes with "Heritage," a moving tribute featuring June, Kimo and Dan. "We are forever indebted to our ancestors," adds June.
25 years after their debut album on Arista, the members Hiroshima continue to create and grow their own distinctive "East meets West" style of music – a blend of the spiritual and the exotic over a bed of urban rhythms from jazz and R&B to salsa and more. Over the years, the group has enjoyed radio airplay on contemporary jazz stations nationwide, and has sold over three million albums, including two gold records. Their songs have topped the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts, garnered an Emmy and a Grammy nomination, and they won a Soul Train Award for Best Jazz Album – evidence of the band’s wide ranging and diverse popularity.
The Los Angeles-based ensemble was founded by the former husband-and-wife team of Dan and June Kuramoto. Dan is third-generation Japanese and grew up in East L.A. June – one of the world’s leading koto players – was born in Tokyo and raised in inner-city Los Angeles in the 1960s. Their families were both imprisoned in internment camps during World War II, while their uncles fought and died in the US Army in Europe and the Pacific – experiences that continue to motivate and inspire their work. With the addition of drummer/percussionist Danny Yamamoto, Hawaiian jazz keyboard sensation Kimo Cornwell and bassist Dean Cortez, Hiroshima has become one of instrumental world music’s most innovative acts. The brilliant young Taiko drummer and percussionist Shoji Kameda is the newest member of the group.
"Our band itself IS diversity," says Dan, who also produced the album. "For 25 years we have had the opportunity to explore a new kind of American music, one that embraces cultures and music. Obon is both tribute and celebration. It is a new beginning for us."