Royal Hawaiian Band

Live at Carnegie Hall, Part 1

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The Royal Hawaiian Band, established in 1836 by King Kamehameha III, continues today as an agency of the City and County of Honolulu. Over its 17 decades of existence it has incorporated traditions ranging from German band music to Viennese waltzes to jazz, blues, and show tunes into its repertoire, yet most of that repertoire is homegrown, and many of the vocal pieces are in Hawaiian. The band has released several of its archival discs, and all are recommended, not least because civic bands with the sheer ensemble precision and individual virtuosity of this one just don't turn up much anymore. This New York program is similar in its outlines to one recorded in a park outside Honolulu, although the Hawaiian national anthem is not sung here. The program opens with the band playing a mixture of marches and old Hawaiian songs, giving way to a smaller group including steel guitar and a glee club singing the jazz-influenced Hawaiian music that achieved national popularity in the 1920s and fundamentally shaped both country music and the blues. In general, this is an excellent introduction to the Royal Hawaiian band. The performance of the Hilo March by steel guitarist Art Parelius is a virtuoso effort, but the sweet-toned Hawaiian vocals during the band segments of the program are equally effective -- sample the duo vocals of track 6, Ke Kali Nei Au, to hear a great example of the sort of high-powered croon that is distinctive to Hawaiian vocals. The detailed introductions of emcee Ed Michelman are fascinating in themselves, and they provide enough detail about the Hawaiian texts (he provides the same explanations to Hawaiian crowds) to make the songs come alive. This small-scale civic organization managed to provide live sound, in a difficult genre for live recording, that is the equal of that heard on releases by big-money ensembles, and the disc is recommended as an unusual find for lovers of band music or as an extremely unusual form of indigenous music that has been thoroughly transformed by Western influences but not obliterated by them.

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