Sunday, May 11, 2014

Jazz Café Exclusive: Hiroshima, Cassandra Wilson Shine at Oakland Yoshi’s and San Francisco Story and Photos by Shelah Moody

It is rare that a band achieves a high level of success and still remains humble and accessible to their audience and fan base.
 The weekend of May 3-4 marked the return of the Asian-American jazz/funk/fusion band Hiroshima, consisting of core members June Kuramoto (koto), Dan Kuramoto (wind instruments, keyboards), Kimo Cornwell (keyboards), Dean Cortez (bass guitar) and Danny Yamamoto (drums).

Hiroshima performed tracks from their latest release “J-Town Beat,” including “Da Kitchen,” “Meiji Mambo,” “State of Mind” and “Cruisin' J-Town.” Formed in 1974, Hiroshima is known for their Far East melodies fused with KBLX/quiet storm/smooth jazz rhythms. Hiroshima closed their ebullient set with the funky “One Wish,” the 1985 composition that established them on the Adult Contemporary charts. I remember seeing Hiroshima perform this track at the pristine Waikiki Shell, the venue where I first saw Anita Baker, Ziggy Marley, Steel Pulse and Miles Davis live, in Honolulu, HI,

June Kuramoto’s koto virtuosity is indeed one of the highlights of Hiroshima’s performances. The koto is a traditional Japanese stringed instrument imported from China. Wikipedia cites June Kuramoto as one of the first performers to popularize the koto in a non-traditional fusion style. Born in Japan, Kuramoto became heavily influenced by the Motown sound and has recorded with the likes of Angela Bofill and George Duke to name a few. Kuramoto has released three solo albums and added her koto radiance to A Taste of Honey’s 1981 pop/soul ballad “Sukiyaki.”
After the show, Hiroshima hosted a meet and greet backstage for media and fans. Dan Kuramoto (June’s ex-husband) was heavily influenced by Ornette Coleman and James Moody (no relation to this writer). In fact, Moody would give Kuramoto private saxophone lessons.
“I have a way of playing over D-minor, and I got this 20 minute saxophone lesson from (Moody) on a long distance phone call from New Zealand,” Kuramoto reminisced. “He was my mentor, my visionary; he taught me everything. He always told me to be true to myself and not to listen to anybody about what you do—words of wisdom.”
In 1990, a year before his passing, Hiroshima opened for Miles Davis on his world tour.
“Miles was the coolest,” said Kuramoto. “He was terrifying at first, but we realized that it was because he was about what he was about. Once you got that Miles was the coolest cat, the nicest guy. He loved to see how you reacted to him. He loved June as a world class musician. He was always blown away.”

Check out the band on

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