For centuries, the holiday season has been a time of hope and renewal – not just for those who celebrate Christmas, but for people of every faith and every culture. It’s a time when barriers are lowered and differences are overcome for the sake of peace and goodwill.
In that spirit of bridging cultures and ideologies, Spirit of the Season (HUCD 3089) is the long-awaited holiday album from Hiroshima. Fueled by the East-meets-West juxtaposition of modern-day synthesizer and traditional Japanese koto, flute and percussion frequently underscored by exotic world-beat rhythms, Spirit of the Season puts a multicultural spin on some well-known Christmas songs and introduces a few original compositions that are likely to become holiday favorites in the years to come.
"For us, people who grew up in the very mixed culture of southern California, Christmas is an extremely important time of year, and we wanted to celebrate it with the same enthusiasm that we bring to all of our music," says Hiroshima multi-instrumentalist and co-founder Dan Kuramoto. "Our particular take on these traditional songs might say as much or maybe even more about who we are than our own music in some ways. These songs tap into a common denominator among all of us."
"Spirit of the Season," the leadoff track written by Kuramoto and delivered with the stirring vocals of Terry Steele, sets the tone for the entire album. "That song really talks about why we have Christmas in the first place," Kuramoto explains. "It’s not about the things you can buy, it’s about the spirit you can share. We wanted to start with that notion, because that’s the first thing that seems to get lost. When most people think about Christmas, they think about going out and spending money and buying gifts. But they often don’t think about taking the time to just be with people. That’s the whole point of the record. It’s about taking the time. Because that time is gone in a heartbeat. That’s the truth for every single one of us."
Much of what follows is familiar holiday fare – some lighthearted, some profound, but all with the distinctive Hiroshima signature etched in large part by the refined yet compelling koto playing of June Kuramoto. Among the holiday treats are "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," Little Drummer Boy," Irving Berlin’s classic "White Christmas," "Winter Wonderland" and "Silent Night."
But there are a few new gifts under the Hiroshima tree this year. The melodic and atmospheric "Listen (To the Falling Snow)" evokes a wintry Christmas mood, even without lyrics. The ambient vocal chorus, accented by June Kuramoto’s koto riffs and Kuramoto’s lush sax runs, says it all. "Peace On Earth" is an upbeat instrumental track that borrows a riff from Mel Torme’s classic "Christmas Song" but builds an entirely different theme around it with he help of guitarist Michael Sasaki and percussionist Richie Garcia. "Thousand Cranes" showcases June Kuramoto’s delicate koto work, backed by the solid piano accompaniment of Kimo Cornwell. Vocalist Terry Steele is joined by a full choir in a rousing chorus.
Is Spirit of the Season a lament for an ideal of peace and goodwill that has passed us all by? Not by any means, says Kuramoto. "We’re not saying, ‘Gee, whatever happened to the spirit of Christmas?’" he says. "It’s all still there, but it’s just a little harder to find. The good news is, with the world being what it’s been in the last few years, we’re becoming a little bit more aware of how much more we need to connect to each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Jew, Buddhist or whatever. The point is, in this very special time of year, let’s focus on grace and renewal from a very multicultural perspective."