In notes and comments about the band’s latest album, “J-Town Beat,” Hiroshima co-founder Dan Kuramoto hinted that the focal point has been in front of them for practically their entire lives.
“We generally like to start a new CD with a concept,” Kuramoto wrote. “Some notion, vibe, title that creates a ‘through line’ through the project. “J-Town refers to Japan Town USA. It’s a microcosm of all the multicultural communities that make America the most diverse country in the world, and how better to reflect that than in music?”
Hiroshima will be on stage this weekend, performing with Keiko Matsui on Friday at the Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach, and Saturday at the Avalon Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island.
“J-Town Beat,” released Sept. 26, is the 19th album from the Grammy-winning group that played a major role in establishing jazz-fusion as a major music genre. Kuramoto said the idea that anchors the album came from a dear friend with a vision.
“‘J-Town Beat’ was really a concept conceived by our friend, Duane Ebata. He was the driving force of the Japan America Theatre in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.”
As manager and artistic director of the Japan America Theatre, now known as the Aratani Theatre, Ebata sought out the best in Japanese American and Asian Pacific Islander programming, and is largely credited for the rise in popularity of taiko performance.
Ebata created a series of concerts called “Kokoro” (in Japanese, “from the heart”) that focused on artists committed to exploring their own multiculturalism.
“He encouraged June to do a solo concert, myself as well,” Kuramoto said, referring to original band member June Kuramoto, a master koto player who has released solo CDs in addition to her work with Hiroshima.
Ebata, who often held symposiums on Japanese American performing arts and served on panels for groups such as the National Endowment for the Arts, died of cancer in 2000 at the age of 49.
“We wanted to take Duane’s idea and apply it to an entire CD project. For us, the preservation of ethnic enclaves is one of the keys to the cultural diversity of this country. That mix is what makes this country so vibrant,” Dan Kuramoto said.
The latest collection finds Hiroshima taking influence from local hangouts and distant lands, and even includes a re-worked version of “Cruisin’ J-Town,” one of their earliest recordings.
“This is a re-visitation of the first song off our second album,” Kuramoto explained. “After all, if we do a record called ‘J-Town Beat,’ how could we not do this one? For a different ‘vibe,’ I put a Latin spin on it, a tribute to my East L.A. heritage.”
“J-Town Beat” opens with sounds familiar to practically anyone who has spent a fair amount of time in and around the JA community. “Red Buddha” is an exotic romp through Japanese Obon festivals, with electronic drums and pop, filled with celebration. Celebrated percussionist Kenny Endo provides many different rhythms, kakegoe (calls made by the drummers) and unique Japanese percussion instruments. June Kuramoto comes from behind her iconic koto and sings and plays the shamisen in the beginning of the song.
“I wrote this song based on a number of my musical and cultural influences,” Dan Kuramoto recalled. “The title is actually the title of an amazing musical theater piece by Stomu Yamashita. It was like a commentary on contemporary Japanese culture in conflict with its own history.
“Several years later and a few Japan tours for the band, one of the many things I really dug were the Obon festivals. They were so surreal, with spikey-haired kids and ladies in kimonos and all this Japanese folk music and everyone dancing — and great food! So this is sort of my tribute.”
Other tracks draw their inspiration from locales as far off as France and Hawaii, with the tune “Da Kitchen” providing a sonic homage to a plate-lunch restaurant on Maui.
Upcoming Tour Dates
Friday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m.: Summer Concert Series (with Keiko Matsui at 8:40 p.m.), Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, Back Bay Amphitheater, 1107 Jamboree Rd., Newport Beach. (949) 360-7800, www.series.hyattconcerts.com
Saturday, Oct. 12, at 12 p.m., Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival, Avalon Casino Ballroom, 1 Casino Way, Avalon. (866) 872-9849, http://jazztrax.tix.com
“Spirit of the Season” Holiday Concerts
Saturday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., Spaghettini’s, 3005 Old Ranch Pkwy., Seal Beach, (562) 596-2199, (714) 960-6022, www.spaghettini.com.
Saturday, Dec 14, at 7:30 p.m., Aratani Theatre, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-3700, www.jaccc.org
Friday, Dec 20, at 9 p.m., Morongo Casino, 49500 Seminole Dr., Cabazon. (800) 252-4499, (951) 849-3080, www.ticketmaster.com
Holiday shows feature guest artists Terry Steele (vocals) and “Tets” Nakamura (harmonica).