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Ledward Kaapana + Bob Brozman

Jamie O'Brien
Ledward Kaapana + Bob Brozman

Ledward Kaapana + Bob Brozman

City: Alexandria, Virginia
Venue: The Birchmere
Date: 2003-08-24

Ledward Kaapana
Bob Brozman
The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, has been the scene of many momentous performances over the years, but few could compare with this one: two master musicians, both steeped deeply in tradition, with a love and respect for the other's music, and who, to put it frankly, really enjoy a good get-together. Ledward Kaapana and Bob Brozman are virtuoso performers, superb entertainers and just a little bit wild and crazy. Their show followed the usual pattern of Hawaiian slack key players: first one musician performs a solo set, followed by the other and then they team up for a set together. But unlike normal performances, this one included no break: there was no need, as each was on a high (just like the audience) and a pause never even entered the picture during the two-hour-plus show. Brozman is a leading authority on National steel guitars and also ranks as one of the best slide players around. He was surrounded by his instruments -- a National, a specially-built baritone National, a Weissenborn and a charanga, all of which he played with consummate ease and devastating excellence during the course of the evening. Over his more than four decades of performing, he has immersed himself in cultures and traditions from all over and is able to travel freely through the world of music. As an example of his prowess and understanding, he used the baritone to perform a set of tunes which he billed as "African slack key": Zulu music led into a Madagascan tune, into another from India, before he settled into a Hawaiian piece. Where Brozman is a citizen of the world, Kaapana approaches music from a traditional Hawaiian background. A demon guitarist, he also is more than adept with ukulele; a strong baritone singer, he is also a fine exponent of falsetto. He began his set with his signature tune, "Radio Hula", before moving through another three pieces, including a devastating "Killing Me Softly", performed on electric ukulele. (His electric ukulele still captures the sound of the instrument, but the main difference for a listener appears to be one of sustained notes, something not always present in the acoustic version.) But the relatively short solo sets were just warm-ups before the pair joined forces. As Brozman explained, there was "no list of songs, no plan. If we're laughing, it's just because we're having a good time." And their enjoyment engulfed the audience. In spite of the fact they had not played together for a long time (their last tour was in 1999, although they played together a couple of times in 2000) there were no rough edges, no tripping up. Some songs and tunes were taken from their two duo albums on Dancing Cat Records, but most were from their individual repertoires. Brozman would lead a tune, such as "Wai'alae Waltz", which the pair featured on In The Saddle (Dancing Cat). As his National steel took the Hawaiian tune around the world by introducing elements of other cultures into his playing, Kaapana's ukulele provided a constant accompaniment for him to build on. But just as Brozman would settle into a particular style, Kaapana shifted gears by unexpectedly changing keys. Each player constantly kept the other on their toes. But it was not one-upmanship, it's just the way it is with them. A constant searching for new levels, an intertwining of ideas which naturally spin off in new directions. Kaapana improvised on a Senegalese theme with Brozman providing a two chord accompaniment. The jam gave the perfect opportunity for Kaapana to explore the dynamic wide range of the ukulele and its astounding sound which fitted the genre perfectly. It also allowed Brozman to show his inventiveness as he drew out alternative voicings and rhythms while stretching the sounds from the National to the limit. This spontaneity flowed over to the inclusion of dancers. On two occasions, Kaapana announced a particular tune and invited anyone in the audience who knew the hula to take the stage. Five dancers joined in for Edith Kanakaole's "Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai" and later a solo dancer performed "I Kona". The evening of chance continued as one musician would choose a particular song, but then decide (often at the end of a hilarious introduction) to play something else. They would also talk frequently to each other, but never give the impression the audience was excluded. At one point, Brozman pointed out that playing with Kaapana, even with a large audience, was like sitting on a back yard in Hawaii and jamming. For the audience, it was also a perfectly intimate performance. On a number of occasions, Brozman picked up his Weissenborn, a beautiful slide guitar made of koa wood, which provided a contrasting sound to the steel of the Nationals. But throughout the evening, he would push all his instruments as far as they would go -- he uses an interesting crossover technique, where his right hand plays strings beyond his left hand on the neck of the guitar rather than over the body of the instrument; he uses the bass strings extremely effectively; his palm deadens strings and creates unusual sounds; and he makes good use of percussive effect. Kaapana showed not only his instrumental skills, but his vocal ones, too. There are few who can sing so well in falsetto -- this is not the Frankie Valli or Beach Boys way; it's down-to-earth, ancient and extremely powerful. Time flew. There was no letup in energy. The music, the chatting, the laughter were all non-stop and often simultaneous. The warmth exuded from the stage more than made up for the over-zealous air-conditioning of the Birchmere, a wonderful venue, but often far too cold temperature-wise. It is rare that two musicians have such a fund to draw on. Led Kaapana, a top musician in the Islands for decades who comes from a family noted for its music; Bob Brozman, immersed in music for years and a finger on the pulse of so many styles; the two together, so compatible as musicians and as friends. All that you're left to do is rush out and buy their Ledward Kaapana & Bob Brozman in Concert video.

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