The Bridge

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Few bands have so artfully and appealingly blended pop, R&B, jazz and world music over the past few decades as this East L.A.-bred ensemble, Hiroshima, which enters the new millennium with a set that draws on everything from old-school soul to Les McCann to the Japanese traditions so dear to its heart. Heads Up will no doubt market this as a smooth jazz project, but only a few tracks are middle of the road enough to truly qualify. The best of these, the lilting and inspirational "Believe," balances Terry Steele's seductive soul vocals with the exotic touches of bandleader Dan Kuramoto's breathy alto flute and June Kuramoto's trademark koto. "Another Wish" also captures the dreamy side of their artistry. That's part of the secret of Hiroshima's success; even at their mellowest, there's still a feast for globally attuned ears. Then when they go funky, as on the horn driven "Shaka Phonk," there are always June's glistening strings floating beyond the groove. The disc begins with a tune ("Eternal Phoenix") that offers a colorful hodgepodge of all their best elements, from ancient chimes and flutes to hypnotic percussion, modern grooving and distant, crunchy fusion guitars. The band has gone through various female lead vocalists but does even better with Terry Steele, who creates appealing updates of classic Isley Brothers and George Benson tunes.

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