Wed, 24 December 2014
When writing about the selection ranking #3 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i, I asserted that The Brothers Cazimero blazed a new path in contemporary Hawaiian music – successfully melding tradition and innovation – to create a new style and sound unlike anything attempted previously. I also mentioned that such innovation – in the face of staunch traditionalism and the offense and injury they would surely leave in their wake – carries with it an element of bravery. In this regard artists like Teresa Bright owe a debt of gratitude to Robert and Roland for an album like A Bright Christmas would not have been possible just a few years earlier before Robert and Roland set the stage and took their lumps from the kupuna so that those who followed wouldn’t have to (or, at least, not quite as severely).
Teresa burst on to the local music scene in the early 1980s while still a student at the University of Hawai`i. She released three albums with then partner Steve Mai`i – the last of which yielded Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award Song of the Year “Uwehe, `Ami, and Slide.” After splitting from partner Mai’i, Bright took a nearly five year hiatus from recording while quietly launching her solo career before reemerging like a butterfly from its cocoon with the 1990 classic Self Portrait which earned her two more Hōkū Awards (for Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year) – at which point Ms. Bright’s career was living up to her ambitious name. Self Portrait was audacious in its simplicity – some tracks featuring as few as two musicians, a template with which she was familiar from her duo days. But it was the arranging combined with her voice – which simply can do no wrong – which captivated the hearts of local fans. Teresa was just the artist to usher in the new decade for Hawaiian music.
After the follow up, Painted Tradition, in 1994, only a year later – only two albums into her solo career – Teresa went into the studio to work on her first holiday-themed release, A Bright Hawaiian Christmas. The release was everything fans had come to expect. Possessing a voice that excelled at jazz and pop as well as traditional Hawaiian fare, the first Christmas album moved easily back and forth from the rockabilly swagger of “Jingle Bell Rock” to the surprising “Po La`i E” (“Silent Night”) which is at first softly jazz before a gospel choir emerges and we are transported to vespers at a New Orleans church. It was a beautiful album from top to bottom.
But then, only five years later, Bright gave her fans another Christmas gift with a second holiday album. Entitled A Christmas Season’s Delight, the second album fulfilled the seemingly impossible promise of surpassing the beauty of the first with a power and majesty all its own. From the jazzy waltz-time “What Child Is This” with the vibes leading the way to the Bossa Nova-tinged “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” with full orchestra featuring a lush string section to the astounding “Carol of the Bells” conceived a la The Carpenters and featuring a choir of seemingly infinitely overdubbed Teresas singing all of the parts a capella, A Christmas Season’s Delight was one of the finest holiday albums of all time – not merely in Hawai`i, but rivaling many far more expensive productions from the mainland. It is right up there alongside classics from Barbra Streisand, Diana Krall, and Lena Horne and far surpasses anything any of her contemporaries (like Gloria Estefan or Mariah Carey) ever did for the season.
Because time is the ultimate enemy of the recording industry, neither A Bright Hawaiian Christmas nor A Christmas Season’s Delight are available any longer in their original form. But the best selections from both releases were gathered into a single collection, A Bright Christmas, which was released as recently as 2009 and which is available for streaming from such services as Spotify or Rhapsody or for purchase from iTunes or Amazon.com. I do not usually agree with producers when they cull something they refer to as a “best of,” but in this case Teresa and her crew really did choose the best selections from across the two dozen available to them – including the five songs you here in this set at Ho`olohe Hou.
For the purposes of this survey of the great Hawaiian music CDs intended for the holidays, instead of ranking either of the original releases (both would have easily made the list), I have instead ranked the newer collection – because it is still available for your enjoyment – and reserved that additional spot for another deserving CD. (It is difficult to say which of the other two dozen would not have made the cut, but I would not assume it was the current #25.) So we might say that Teresa Bright has doubly earned this elite position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.
And we also have to imagine that an album would have to be truly great to best either of these two from Teresa and reach the coveted #1 position on this countdown.
Next time: #1 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…