A Review of George’s “Soulful Tribute” From Paradise

Here is a review by Jon Woodhouse.  The original can be viewed at MauiNews.com Here.

“George Kahumoku Jr. first met blues harmonica virtuoso Norton Buffalo back in the early 1990s. The two musicians struck up a friendship that blossomed into playing the occasional gig together, collaborating on workshops and over the years, recording a bunch of songs.

As a tribute to the late harmonica great, who died in 2009, George has just released “From Paradise,” a wonderful CD that seamlessly blends the talents of two masters of their instruments.

“I met him through Jesse Colin Young,” George recalls. “I performed for Jesse’s wedding in the ’80s and helped him plant about 20 acres of mac nuts (on the Big Island). Eventually he had kids and they went to the Waldorf School I taught at in Kona. He would do fundraisers and Jesse would bring Norton over. We jammed and recorded ‘Lei Pikake’ for Dancing Cat in the ’90s (on “Hawaiian Love Songs” CD). Then we did the “Hawaiian War” chant on our (‘The Spirit of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar”) album in 2008.

“We recorded together over 15 years,” George continues. “We wanted to do some originals by each of us. I had to learn his songs and he had to learn mine. His were easy because they were in English, but he had to learn Hawaiian. He practiced ’til he got it perfect. His pronunciation was impeccable. He was really a musician’s musician. He was known for the blues, but he can play anything.”

One of the most versatile harmonica players of our time, the acclaimed harpist is best known for his work recording and touring for decades with the Steve Miller Band. Over the years he also recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Loggins, the Doobie Brothers (including the Grammy Award-winning “Minute By Minute”) Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers and Elvin Bishop.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2009.

“He had a hard time breathing and found he had lung cancer,” George reports. “In less than a month he was gone. He didn’t smoke, but he played in a lot of bars in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, so a lot of smoking, and as a harmonica player he was breathing extra.”

One might not expect to hear the harmonica in the context of Hawaiian slack key guitar, but Norton’s warm tone, expressive ability and empathy for the material makes this a remarkable collaboration.

“A lot of people don’t realize Hawaiians did everything,” says George. “Like the song ‘Hi’ilawe’ was actually composed on the violin, not the guitar. My grandfather played harmonica and accordion, we had a lot of influences from different cultures.”

Opening in paniolo territory with the country calypso of Norton’s “Another Day,” the album flows into George’s “Ku’u ‘Aina Aloha o Kahakuloa” moving tribute to his home land and winds through songs by the Rev. Dennis Kamakahi, Kui Lee, the Makaha Sons’ ‘Moon’ Kauakahi and Queen Lili’uokalani.

Besides Norton’s wife, Lisa Flores-Buffalo, a gifted guitarist who plays on many of the songs, guests on the album include Dennis Kamakahi, Jeff Peterson, Herb Ohta Jr., and Keoki Kahumoku.

“We all jammed together at my workshops,” George notes. “But we didn’t have anything recorded together, so when they found out he passed on they all wanted to participate in some way.”

Among the jewels on the album, the duo delivers a sublime, 8-minute version of “Amazing Grace,” sung in Hawaiian and English. Other songs range from the funky blues shuffle of “Waipahe’e” and Kamakahi’s beautiful love song “Kou Aloha Mau a Mau,” to the retro /jazzy “Waikiki Hula” and the closing, classic Neopolitan song “Torna a Surriento,” performed as an instrumental by Norton and his wife.

“We had about 60s songs,” George says. “We tried to do stuff that gave the most soul, as a tribute.”

Besides releasing the new CD, George is currently involved in a new documentary on his life, directed by filmmaker Dave Barry. “He’s been filming me for about the last year and half,” George explains. “Any time we did a show he would put it on YouTube and now we get about 300,000 hits a day on our web site. We’ve got to do a lot of editing, so we were trying to raise some money.”

Funding is being sought through a KickStarter campaign to produce a 90-minute documentary. So far they’ve raised about two thirds of the funds needed.

www.kickstarter.com/projects/1252904912/george-kahumoku-jr-a-hawaiian-life.

[UPDATE:  The documentary was successfully funded via KickStartr (yes, there is no “e” at the end) and the documentary completed and published under the title, “Seeds of Aloha“.  Check out the details and purchase the DVD online at Kahumoku.com… ]

George Kahumoku Jr. hosts the weekly Masters of Hawaiian Music shows at the Napili Kai Beach Resort on Wednesday evenings. Led Kaapana next performs at 7:30 p.m. on July 11.”

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