Contemporary Jazz

Bridge To Soul


Few bands have so artfully and appealingly blended pop, R&B, jazz and world music over the past few decades as the East L.A.-bred ensemble Hiroshima, which entered the 2000s -- and made their Heads Up debut -- with The Bridge, a set that draws on everything from old-school soul to Les McCann to the Japanese traditions so dear to its heart.

While the band's releases from the late-'80s through the '90s achieved significant success in the contemporary jazz format, only a few tracks on what band founder, saxman/flutist and producer Dan Kuramoto calls "the most up-tempo record we've ever done" are middle of the road enough to truly qualify.

The best of these, the lilting and inspirational "Believe," balances Terry Steele's seductive soul vocals with the exotic touches of bandleader Dan Kuramoto's breathy alto flute and June Kuramoto's trademark koto. "Another Wish" also captures the dreamy side of their artistry. That's part of the secret of Hiroshima's success. Even at their mellowest, there's still a feast for globally attuned ears. When they go funky, as on the horn driven "Shaka Phonk," there are always June's glistening strings floating beyond the groove.

The disc begins with "Eternal Phoenix," which offers a colorful hodgepodge of all their best elements, from ancient chimes and flutes to hypnotic percussion, modern grooving and distant, crunchy fusion guitars. The band had previously gone through various female lead vocalists but upped the emotion considerably by adding Steele, who creates appealing updates of classic Isley Brothers and George Benson tunes.