You are all aware that I'm an old geezer living up in chilly Canada. Then why would my editor send me two CDs of Hawaiian Slack Key guitar music? I don't understand it either. Was this his idea of subjecting me to his own sick version of torture?
I thought so until I played the Led Kaapana recording. I was totally absorbed by this solo guitar style which is unique to the Islands. Apparently, there are several different styles of "slack key" and two musicians are noted for the loose "jazz style." This musician is one of them. His music is not "jazz" as many of us would define the term. It is, however, a highly improvised music which will appeal to lovers of a jazz guitar. Perhaps it doesn't fit into a predetermined "slot" as would the early guitar of Eddie Lang or the modern works of Tal Farlow.
Louis Armstrong once said "There's only two ways to sum up music: either it's good or it's bad. If it's good you don't mess with it; you just enjoy it." If you are too young to remember Satchmo, then allow me to quote Miles Davis who said "I'll play it first and tell you what it is later."
Led Kaapana's CD is a wonderful listening experience and the 63 minute audition seemed to fly by in a flash. There are moments that trigger memories of legendary blues guitarists and the song "Aloha Ia No O Maui" seems built on the chord progression of Darktown Strutters Ball. Kaapana is an absolute master of the acoustic guitar and also plays autoharp on one track. The guitar/piano duet, 'Akaka Falls is beautiful and has some blues inflections.
Allow me to quote from the recording company's web site to provide a brief description of the slack key technique. "There is a mystique surrounding slack key guitar music - it is very personal, and can be very magical in feeling. Slack key derives its unique sound from techniques such as "hammering-on" and "pulling- off." These techniques mimic the yodels and falsettos common in Hawaiian singing. Harmonics ("chiming"), produced by lightly touching the strings at certain points on the fretboard, and slides in which one or two treble notes are cleffed and then slid (usually up) to sound another note, are also common. All these enhance the feeling of aloha, joy or longing expressed, sometimes all in the same song".
"Like blues, slack key guitar is very flexible. Often, the same guitarist will play a song differently each time, sometimes using different tempos, and even different tunings. As each guitarist learns to play slack key, they find their own individual tunings, repertoire, tempos and ornaments. It is a very individualistic tradition and, as one can hear from different recordings, each guitarist plays quite differently from the others". Dancing Cat Records is an affiliate of Windham Hill. Check out the sound samples at the Windham Hill Web Site.
I must admit that I listened to the CD again as I typed this review and it's still beautiful.