A Blend of Cultures: Island Breeze’s Kahilu Concert


On a chilly, windy night in Waimea, what better way to warm those winter bones than an Island Breeze concert. The all-star trio features Grammy Award–winning slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson, shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) master Riley Lee, and taiko master Kenny Endo. Their nearly two-hour show at the Kahilu last Thursday spotlighted the group’s melting pot of musical influences.

Peterson and Lee have worked together for nearly twenty years. Peterson met Lee when he was teaching at UH Manoa and they have collaborated on several CDs like Haleakala and Maui Morning. The combination of Japanese flute and Hawaiian slack key guitar offers melodic and often meditative melodies. In 2012, the duo joined forces with Kenny Endo, the famed taiko drummer, and formed Island Breeze. The following year the trio performed their first concert and released the self-titled Island Breeze CD.  The recording received Na Hoku Hanohano award nominations for Album of the Yearand “Na Pali” for Instrumental Song of the Year.

Kenny Endo

Endo explained the origins of his song “Spirit of Rice,” which was composed for the Honolulu Festival’s Omikoshi (portable shrine). “I grew up on the mainland listening to 1970’s funk music,” said Endo, “and I thought it would be interesting to put those two sensibilities together – Festival Music and American Funk.” Endo performed on a scaled-down kit of three drums, cymbals, and a variety of chimes, blocks, and shakers. Missing was that giant rolling thunder ohdaiko drum, but it still proved quite effective for the numbers performed. To watch Endo connect with his instrument is a treat in its self.

Texas-born, Australian-based, Riley Lee became the first non-Japanese person to attain the rank of Dai Shihan (grand master) in the shakuhachi tradition. Lee was also instrumental in creating a professional presence of traditional Japanese music in Australia.

Riley Lee

During the second half of the show, Lee admitted he recently caught bronchitis while traveling from the East Coast to Hawaii. The resilient musician said while participating in the recent Honolulu marathon, he relapsed, but you couldn’t tell — he sounded amazing. In 2010, Lee survived a near-fatal car accident in Brisbane and spent two months in a hospital after suffering broken bones and extensive burns.

Watching Jeff Peterson play is like watching a classical guitarist at work. His technique, stance, hands, and tuning are all dazzling. Ever the showman, never the show-off. A joy for  photographers, he often tilts back his head in a dreamy state – lost in the music – basking in the spotlight like a sunny summer day in Hawaii.

Jeff Peterson

Peterson included several of his own compositions in the show, including the recently penned “Kamuela Inn.” It’s an instrumental he debuted last month at the Kahilu’s three-day Ukulele and Slack Key Guitar Festival. Peterson told the crowd that the Inn is a favorite place to stay for musicians who play the theatre because of its great hospitality and close proximity. The song will be featured on Peterson’s next album which is due in January.

Island Breeze returned on stage for an encore and the crowd was treated to “Morning Dew,” from the 1999 Peterson/Lee album, Maui Morning.

Set I
Maika`i ka Makani O Kohala (Fine are the winds of Kohala) | Spirit of Rice | Na Pali | Island Breeze | Yume No Pahu (dream drum) | The Beauty of Mauna Kea | Icarus

Set II
The Eagle and the Ocean (Manu O Ke Kai) | Drifting | Himawari (Sunflower) | Kamuela Inn | Kawika

Morning Dew

Keep up with the Island Breeze musicians on their individual websites.
Jeff Peterson: https://jeffpetersonguitar.com
Kenny Endo:  https://www.kennyendo.com
Riley Lee:  http://rileylee.net

Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Photos: Steve Roby


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