Sound Explorers

Constantly pushing boundaries is at the heart of Hiroshima’s sound. But their musical journey began at a routine company picnic.

In spite of founding a band which has spent the last 40 years fusing traditional Japanese classical music with American jazz, wind performer Dan Kuramoto eschews genre labeling.

“Smooth jazz is kind of an oxymoron to us,” he says. “There’s nothing smooth about jazz. Real jazz is always a bit edgy, and hyper-exploratory.”

Hiroshima has always eluded the kind of easy categorizing applied to other bands. Members agree they are not a jazz band, but that’s where the clarity ends. “In fact, we’re not too sure what we are,” Kuramoto says. “So with that comes unknowns and inventions. All of those categories are just marketing things. It’s different than it is when someone just plays.”

It all began at a company picnic decades ago when Dan met a woman named June who was a master of the koto, a six-foot-long, wooden, 13-string instrument that has been the centerpiece of Japanese classical music for hundreds of years. The two eventually married and founded the group with a singular focus: East-West fusion music.

“She taught me about classical,” Kuramoto says, “and I taught her about improvisation, which doesn’t exist in the traditional Japanese classical idiom.”

Jazz band or not, when asked to name influences, Kuramoto spouts a list of jazz illuminati like Miles Davis, Don Cherry, Yusef Lateef and Pharoah Sanders.

“When we were coming up, there was no place for Japanese, for Asians on the scene,” Kuramoto says. “Forty years ago, a Japanese band featuring a woman on an instrument no one had heard of before seemed a recipe for failure. But those mentors of ours, they all believed in us when no one else really did. We would be totally dropping the ball on them now if we didn’t continue to explore new things. That’s what jazz is – constant exploration and inclusion.”

The group’s show here this weekend will be the first of their 40th anniversary tour and will display the blending of jazz, pop and rock with traditional Japanese folk and classical traditions that makes them unique. Think meditative, pentatonic koto wanderings embellished and supported by jazz and funk rhythms and chords beneath.

“America is the greatest country in the world precisely because of its diversity, its inclusiveness,” Kuramoto says. “Let’s not pigeonhole jazz or any people anymore and let’s not close any doors. At the end of the day, it’s all about inclusion.

“The thing that has kept this band alive for so long is its heart,” he says.

HIROSHIMA 8pm Saturday, April 13. $10-$40. CSU Monterey Bay World Theater, 5260 Sixth Ave., Seaside. 582-4580, csumb.edu/worldtheater

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