Long admired for his innovative, contemporary island music, for the last few years Brother Noland has also focused on playing traditional Hawaiian. A regular performer at the annual slack key events around the state, Noland will be among the artists gracing the stage at the Ki Ho'alu Guitar Festival at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Sunday.
Born and raised in Kalihi-Palama, Noland first picked up a ukulele at 5 and quickly gravitated to guitar.
"I was just talking with George (Kahumoku Jr.) about how we're born into it," says Noland. "It just becomes part of a way of life. When I was first taught it, I thought it was like old-man music, but it is our culture, it is part of everything."
Brother Noland will once again be part of the all-star lineup thrilling the MACC crowd Sunday with the soothing sounds of slack key.
Maui Arts & Cultural Center / AUBREY HORD photo
Even during his hit-packed days of island favorites like "Coconut Girl," "Big Ship" and "Pua Lane," he would often relax in hotel rooms on tour playing slack key guitar.
"When I would travel, back in the day, I would always have a guitar tuned down to slack key," he continues. "So after the big shows I would play my slack key, staying rooted."
Ki ho'alu became more prominent after he was encouraged to play alongside our leading musicians at festivals. But when he was first invited to perform at an annual Gabby Pahinui-Atta Isaacs Slack Key Festival he felt a little nervous. Taking the stage solo he was soon surrounded by some fellow musicians - Cyril and Blah and Martin Pahinui, providing backing support.
* The 20th Maui Ki Ho'alu Guitar Festival returns to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Yokouchi Pavilion and A&B Amphitheater from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday. The lineup features Brother Noland, George Kahumoku, Jr., Hapa, Pekelo, Dennis Kamakahi, Makana, Jeff Peterson, Keoki Kahumoku, Michael Kaawa, John Keawe, Bobby Moderow, Walter Keale, Stephen Inglis, Paul Togioka, Kevin & Ikaika Brown and LT Smooth. Sponsored by The Maui News, admission is free.
"I was a little rusty and the brothers knew I was nervous," he recalls. "They said, 'Daddy would have wanted us to back you up.' Gabby was like the oracle you paid homage to. I played with him at one of his gigs."
Noland's most recent album, the Na Hoku-nominated "Hawaiian Man," found him paying homage to traditional Hawaiian music, with distinctive arrangements of songs like "Kona Kai 'Opua" and "Henehene Kau Ako," and a moving medley of "Aloha Pono'i" and "Hawaii Aloha."
A couple of years earlier he won a Reggae Album of the Year Hoku for "Mystical Fish," which featured unique covers of Bob Marley's "Easy Skankin" and Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster," along with cool updates of "RU Native" and "Sun Daddy."
Now he's returning to contemporary territory with a set of new original songs that he's eager to release to the world.
"It focuses on my songwriting abilities," he explains. "I've written some songs that have a lot of meaning. I'm at a seasonal point with my musicality even with my voice, the way it conveys the message more. I sound more mature the way it is delivered. It's the same me, but there's more essence to it. You could look at it like the Tracy Chapman project or the Carol King project, but my way.
"I've had years of experience writing and arranging music, and each song I've written over the last year, I've been nurturing. They're just about ready to lift off from paper and pencil into the studio. Everything seems to be lining up. You just have to stay steady on the course and not waver."
As to its musical flavors, he says it will include, "a little bit of everything, with the Nolanism. I'm really conscious how reggaeish it can be, and yet not losing that touch, so it attracts people. The genres are broad, with a setting that's very Hawaii and is expected of Noland. I played one last night and all the locals were, 'That's a beautiful song.' I know I'm on the right track."
He's especially pleased with a composition called "New Way."
"I wrote it when I was at Pipeline at the Masters watching the waves with Jerry Lopez, a good friend," he notes. "It has that underlying Noland beat that ended up being termed Jawaiian.
"I say, 'It's going to be a blue day, ocean water, it's going to be a new day, ocean water, it's going to be a new way, and everything's so beautiful.' Other lines are, 'Embrace me, connect me, person to person, I'm living aloha, and everything's so beautiful.' "
Noland reports Mountain Apple Record's president Jon de Mello is looking forward to recording the new songs. "He got all excited. I told him, I'm long train running; you know you can count on me, coming up with something pioneering. I think it's my best work. So I'm excited."
Musicians invited to play on the project include award-winning guitarist/producer Dave Tucciarone, Noland's hanai brother - "who is coming from Alaska and played in power trios, ZZ Top and Robben Ford stuff, he has the super licks" - and Maui keyboardist Gene Argel. "Gene has the Maui vibe," he says. "Gene was one of my original keyboard players back in the day. I called him up and told him, 'Hey, want to get funky?' "
Ebb & Flow Arts' "A Little More Summer Music, Please" three-island series launches on Friday on Maui with a "Multimedia Marathon" at the Seabury Hall Performing Arts Center.
The innovative, free series, which continues through July 23, features renowned musicians, artists and dancers in cutting-edge multimedia events and chamber concerts.
Friday's concert includes the world premiere of "Play to This, Paint to That," by legendary percussionist Emil Richards, painting to real-time music; multimedia experiments with audience participation; the Hawaii premiere of "Vibiano" for vibraphone and piano by E&FA's founder Robert Pollock; and jazz selections by the Maui Jazz Quartet.
The various works will be performed by the E&FA Multimedia Group, featuring Richards on vibraphone, John Zangrando on woodwinds, Bob Harrison on bass, Paul Marchetti on percussion and Pollock on piano; along with painters Tony Walholm, Frances Ku, Martha Woodbury, Piero Resta and Michael Takemoto; and dancers Lisa Gagnon and Hallie Hunt-Armato.
"We're thrilled and honored that Emil Richards is part of it," says Pollock. "He continues to create new concepts and pieces for our painting projects."
"I used to do this in the '60s," says Richards, talking about Friday's multimedia experiment where musicians and dancers will improvise to a painting.
A veteran jazz musician who specializes in major movie soundtracks, Richards eclectic resume includes recording and touring with such diverse artists as George Harrison, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa and Yo Yo Ma.
Richards has long thrived on experimentation. In the 1960s, he formed the exotic Microtonal Blues Band, releasing the album "Journey To Bliss," and he worked with innovative composer Harry Partch. He created the album "New Sound Element: Stones," which celebrated birth gemstones; he played on the psychedelic favorite "The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds," a far-out musical interpretation of astrology; and explored Indian music with Don Ellis in the Hindustani jazz sextet.
Then in 1977, he became a member of Frank Zappa's "Electric Symphony" and recorded several albums with this large orchestra, and he also played on Zappa's first symphonic album "Lumpy Gravy."
"I've tried to be in the forefront of a lot of stuff and have fun doing it," says Richard's about his passion for percussion and vibes. "Vibes are my real love, and I'm playing vibes now more than ever."
Over the years he has played on more than 1,750 film scores, and has recorded and performed with around 650 artists.
The Seabury concert will also feature Richards performing with Pollock on the Hawaii premiere of "Vibiano" for vibraphone and piano.
"I wrote it some years ago with Emil in mind," says Pollock. "He's finally agreed to play it."
The program will close with "some jazz selections and a group improvisation with audience members invited to participate. And Bill Best (from Mana'o Radio) will create a collage of video segments while the event is happening, and the video will be screened at the end. It should be pretty interesting."
* Ebb & Flow Arts presents its "Multimedia Marathon" at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Seabury Hall Performing Arts Center. Admission is free.