World & Latin

VOICES Notes and news on World & Latin releases

International Spirit

17 NOV 09 JOHN C. BRUENING

If the holidays are truly about renewing the commitment to peace and goodwill, then what better time of year for music that bridges cultural and ideological divides? Hiroshima's Spirit Of The Season, released on Heads Up in 2004, is a collection of eleven holiday tracks -- some traditional, some original -- that showcase the band's three-decade legacy of merging Western and Latin jazz with traditional Eastern music.

The title track opens the set, with lyrics sung by Terry Steele that focus less on the stuff in the stores and more on the intangibles of the heart that are far more valuable and enduring than anything on the shelves. Underscoring it all is June Kuramoto's Japanese koto, Dan Kuramoto's synthesizer and tenor sax and additional instrumentation from pianist Kimo Cornwell, bassist Dean Cortez and drummer Danny Yamamoto

Among the highlights are the quiet but stirring "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the pensive "White Christmas." Steele lends his pipes to the poignant "I'll Be Home for Christmas," while a four-note segment from Mel Tormé's classic "The Christmas Song" is reconfigured into a compelling riff for the richly layered "Peace on Earth." In the home stretch, "Winter Wonderland" takes a Latin turn with steel pans and exquisitely layered percussion, while Steele provides a straightforward but emotionally resonant reading of the inevitable closer, "Silent Night."

Traditional Japanese stringed instruments alongside jazz saxophones underscored by Latin rhythms, all tied up in a bow for the holidays? Why not? If the most influential religious figure of the past two millennia can be born in a barn on a pile of straw, anything can happen.