Kapono Beamer describes his new album as a dream project. A Japanese company liked his previous album so much that he was commissioned to do another with instructions to record "whatever you want to do."
Beamer's new album reworks
the pulse of melodies, creating
a flow that blends old and new
By John Berger
"They had heard the "Great Grandmother Great Grandson" CD, really liked it, and bought some to sell in their stores (in the United States) and in Japan. After that they approached me," Beamer said in his immaculate white-on-white recording studio.
Beamer's "Great Grandmother Great Grandson" album was a tribute to his great-grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer, and consisted of songs she had written. What he wanted to do next was an album of Hawaiian standards by other classic composers.
"For me this was a natural progression. Having done an album of old Beamer family songs, I was struck by the beauty of some of the other music from that time. I wanted to put together a collection of old songs that I have always heard and loved but never had a chance to record on my own. They're almost like part of the family music for me."
The album, "Pana Aloha Hawaiian Heartbeat," contains 11 Hawaiian standards. It's in local record stores and will also be available in Felissimo stores nationwide.
"They said, 'Do something from your heart,' and one of the things that I have fun doing is rearranging old melodies and putting them in a slightly different context, remaining true to the melodic elements but experimenting with some different guitar textures and (adding) a little twist on the harmonies," Beamer said of his approach to songs such as "Old Plantation" and "Kamalani O Keaukaha."
Beamer and executive producers Ito Kimio and Muranaka Eiji traded ideas by e-mail while he was working on the project. He says he recorded the album "mainly for the Hawaii market.
"I wasn't trying to craft anything that would be working better in Japan than in Hawaii. I was just trying to be true to my instincts as a musician. As an artist you just gotta do what's in your gut and heart and soul, and put it out there and see what happens. Hopefully, people react positively to it."
Beamer brought in John Kolivas (bass), Noel Okimoto (percussion) and Dennis Graue (piano/vibes) as his partners in working out the fresh new arrangements. Some of the quartet's work is more "tropical" than Hawaiian in style, but Beamer's work on guitar and 'ohe hano ihu (Hawaiian nose flute) maintains the links to old Hawaii.
"I've been playing the nose flute since I was about 5 years old. I still always try to put something with a nose flute on my albums. It's a really unique, haunting kind of sound, and I just love the timbre of it. The sound is very unique.
"There's something soulful about it that is different from any other flute that I've heard. It's even more primal than the (Japanese) shakuhachi flute because all the nose flutes are homemade. You can't go out and buy a C tenor nose flute. So that's another aspect of it, that it's always slightly out of tune, which to me makes it interesting. It's a natural-sounding, primitive instrument."
The tropical sound of the new album seems less of a departure from tradition when Beamer mentions the Kingston Trio, Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins and Harry Belafonte, as well as his many Beamer ancestors, as some of his early musical influences.
The main thing, he says, is that the music comes from the heart.
"I enjoy doing music that can somehow uplift people's spirits and nourish the soul. Music has the power to do that, and to me that's just fascinating. People e-mail me sometimes about how my music has touched them or a loved one.
"I've been so fortunate to have success here in Hawaii and in Europe also, and I love the Hoku Awards and the album sales, but to hear from someone that something I recorded really touched the human heart means more to me than the other accolades. The thought that music can help someone in their life somehow is an aspect of the music that I want to explore more."
So what's next? Well, Beamer has been best known in recent years as an instrumentalist, so he may sing the next time he records.
"A lot of people have been telling me that they miss the sound of my voice, so I've been thinking about that. I'm lucky enough to have a studio in my house, so I'm always working on some kind of music. It's just a matter of picking a concept or a direction. Otherwise there's just too many choices."
Insight. Imagination. A great listening experience. Kapono Beamer uses the first two to create the third with a collection of Hawaiian standards. Beamer displays his talent as both musician and arranger here. The melodies are intact but the arrangements take them in fresh directions.
"Pana Aloha Hawaiian Heartbeat"Kapono Beamer
Kapono Beamer Enterprises (KBECD137)
Most of Beamer's musical vistas come with a tropical light-pop sound created in large part by the interplay between John Kolivas (acoustic and electric bass) and Noel Okimoto (percussion), but the key component on several songs is provided by Dennis Graue (piano/vibes). Graue, a long-time fan and disciple of Martin Denny, references just enough of Denny's classic "exotica" style to give several tunes a tropical ambience that few would describe as "Hawaiian" but isn't derivative of anything else.
Beamer's guitars are the common denominator in creating a smooth and satisfying package that offers new perspectives with repeat plays. His use of nose flute on "Mahinalani," the one original song he included, emphasizes the unique status of the song while also reaffirming the spiritual ties to 'aina and ohana even when exploring new musical horizons.
Beamer's last album, "Great Grandmother Grand Grandson," won a Hoku Award in 1999. This one is of equal substance.
Review by John Berger
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