Today we are going to listen to the recently released Hi*Sessions episode of the talented Raiatea Helm and her partners in crime Bryan Tolentino and Isaac Sonny Kaula. Raiatea has captured the hearts of Hawai’i’s music scene upon the arrival of her first album Far Away Heaven. She made Hawaiian music history by being the youngest artist to ever win the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for best Female Vocalist of the Year at barely 18 years old. Since then she has released 5 more critically acclaimed albums including being Hawai’i’s first solo female vocalist to be nominated for a Grammy Award. Helm’s career and success is easily understood the moment you hear her sing. Take a listen to the trio play the Loeka Longakit tune titled The One They’d Call Hawaii. The Hi*Session’s crew wrote an elegant description about the song:
“It (The One They’d Call Hawaii) talks about all the simple things that make our island home the magical place that it is.”
While her singing is the main star of this performance, it truly is the collective work of all three musicians working a delicate balance to elevate to set the song’s poetry in motion. Kaula keeps an easy moving grove on the electric guitar, playing both the comping guitar and bass playing for the song. His in-the-pocket playing provides a strong foundation for the song and allows Helm to take the melody freely. Now with all that extra space, Tolentino adds what he likes to call “fairy-dusting” to all the empty spaces in the song. Tolentino is a great example of how an accompanist can add so much to a song yet not overplay. You can hear him playing off of the inflections of the Helm’s voice and weaving in and out Kaula’s rhythm playing. I love the descending line he introduces in the beginning (0:10) and his lyrical approach by providing variations in the second verse (1:18). Filled with slow and delicate major 6ths (0:26, 0:31, etc), minor 7ths (0:37, 1:02, etc), and perfectly timed G13b9 at the tag of each chorus (0:55), Tolentino gives texture, motion, and harmonically paints the words Helm sings. Also love that tasteful little jazz lick (1:08) in the first chorus and his nod to the lyrics with a quick Hawaiian turnaround (1:29).
This trio is a class act and a beautiful blend of talent, tastefulness, and tradition.
UkePrints is a curated playlist of some essential ukulele tracks that all ukulele player should listen to. These songs have left a legacy for future players and in essence, sound impressions of the ‘ukulele or what I like to call them: UkePrints.