This is the album Hiroshima took 25 years to make.
Okay, that's not exactly true. Obon didn't take the band over two decades to create. It did take over two decades for them to make the most richly textured, passionate and best album of their career. Why? Because this is the first album Hiroshima has made without a vocalist.
Change is good.
Too often Hiroshima has struggled to decide whether it is a jazz band featuring pop vocalists or a pop band that plays jazz. With Obon the decision is made: Hiroshima is a jazz band and I hope they never return to using vocalists. The absence of a vocalist frees the musicians to just play and on this album they step forward and deliver some of the best work ever heard on any Hiroshima album.
Dan Kuramoto's saxophone swings, sways and soars on the opening cut, "Swiss Ming." Kuramoto says it was inspired by one of his sax heroes, the great Eddie Harris. "China Italia" has a groove that is neither Chinese or Italian, but lusciously Latin and so L.A. you can almost smell the smog. "Obon Two-Five" is a showcase for June Kuramoto's stylings on koto and newcomer Shoji Kamada on taiko. The song is a celebration of the band's 25 years of making music and it gives everyone a chance to stretch. And you can really hear Kimo Cornwell's piano up front where it belongs on songs like "The Lighthouse" instead of hiding in the background supporting some singer.
Hiroshima is at an age where many long-running bands run dry of ideas and start repeating themselves ad nauseum. The new album is a "in-yo-face" to anyone delusional and thinking the band is a spent force. Instead, Obon is the freshest, funkiest and most joyful album Hiroshima has ever made. It's got enough energy to get them through the next 25 years easy.
Just don't bring back the vocalists. Pretty please?