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East, West find common ground, cool grooves in Okinawa

Jin Jin/Firefly
Jin Jin/Firefly
By Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman

World Music Network: 2000

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This review first appeared in the June 23, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

Bob Brozman is possessed of an exploratory nature that's taken him from the deepest rural blues to Hawaiian slack tunings to, now, Okinawa.

Okinawa native Takashi Hirayasu is a virtuoso picker, whether Western guitars or his island's lutelike, six-string sanshin, and a smooth, mellow singer.

Together, the two of them have produced a funky, listenable melding of East, West and a bunch of in-between.

Nine of the even dozen songs are traditional Okinawan folk melodies. But even if Hirayasu is singing the original lyrics, the arrangements and solos cover so much geography that it's hard to believe any have ever been played quite like this before.

Brozman's playing, especially, is such an amalgamation of styles and traditions that it's pretty much impossible to distill any one passage down and call this part "blues" or this part "bluegrass" or that "Hawaiian." It's just all Brozman, and it's wonderful and fun and always interesting.

Hirayasu is, as mentioned, a warm, conversational vocalist. Stylistically, he's nothing like Dean Martin, but the overall emotional impact isn't so far off: Listening to him sing, it's like having a friend over to hang out with you. Relaxed might be the key word to describe his singing.

As an instrumentalist, he more than keeps up with Brozman, and the two push each other into some pretty heady riffs while trading solos.

With titles like "Hana Nu Kajimaya" and "Chinnuku Jushi," the songs on this release aren't likely to get on American radio anytime soon. Which is too bad, because most of them have an immediate accessibility with the kind of classically catchy melodies generally wasted on selling personal hygiene products or home cleansers on TV.

The album was recorded in a small shack on one of Okinawa's small, outlying islets. Rather than sounding crude, the result is a charming, fun listen, one that will make itself a home in your CD player if you're not careful.