Zen and the Art of Spa Maintenance

A concert series seeks to bring ethnic, ambient, meditation and New Age music to Tucsonans

No matter if your musical frequency is closer to Polynesian folk-rock or to alpha-state meditation music, a new concert series in Tucson is committed to feeding your head the music it needs starting this weekend.

Presenter Rhythm & Roots has teamed up with the early-morning Brain Waves show, on community radio station KXCI-FM (91.3 FM), to bring us the new Brain Waves Concert Series, which will specialize in ambient, meditation, ethnic and New Age music. The first show was last week, featuring the Grammy Award-nominated R. Carlos Nakai Quartet.

The series continues this weekend with two concerts, one by the Hawaiian-music duo Hapa (Friday, Feb. 18) and the other by the ambient trio known as Quiet Fire (Saturday, Feb. 19). Both will take place in the St. Philips in the Hills Episcopal Church Music Center.

The music of Hapa is not traditional per se, but for those whose knowledge of Hawaiian music goes only as far as "Tiny Bubbles"--not that there's anything wrong with that--it will sound pretty authentic.

What the 12-year-old duo does, though, is more inventive. Instead of watering down Hawaiian music to fit some mainland ideal of pop, native Hawaiian musician Keli'i Kaneali'i and New Jersey-born haole Barry Flanagan adapt and assimilate different styles of music into theirs.

Legendary Hawaiian musicians did the same, combining Polynesian rhythms and traditional chanting with Portuguese fisherman's songs, cowboy music and church-choir harmonies. The result was a sound--marked by the distinctive slack-key guitar style of such masters as Keola Beamer and Gabby Pahuini--that could be as gentle as a lullaby or rollicking as the blues

To that, the guys in Hapa add a combination of pop melodies; rich, rocking guitar licks; and jazz-like swinging that sounds like it could have been played by Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Ry Cooder or Wes Montgomery. The result is nothing less than beguiling.

For added Hawaiian flavor, Hapa will perform with hula dancers, who travel with them. But a Tucsonan will also be on the bill. Cheryl Hannan, founder and leader of the Polynesian dance troupe Kiawe, will perform the dance "Hana Hou," which means "encore," at the close of the show.

Just a day later, the Brain Waves Concert Series will carry listeners from a Pacific island lilt to the inner spirit.

On Saturday night, the trio Quiet Fire will play music for calming, contemplation and meditation from its CD, Zen Moods for the Spa Experience (White Swan Records). Although the group's members have played on and recorded dozens of albums, this is their first together.

Flutist Gary Stroutsos, percussionist Will Clipman and guitarist William Eaton have joined to create music for healing the body and aligning the soul.

Stroutsos, who is from Washington State, studied jazz and Afro-Cuban music before he became enamored with the Native American wooden flute and Asian bamboo flute, and his gentle melodies incorporate both.

Eaton is a master luthier in Sedona, and he's well known in these parts for inventing and creating his own unique multi-stringed instruments, including the lyra-harp guitar and the koto-harp guitar.

Clipman's a well known Tucson musician, artist and poet who has played rock, blues, folk, reggae and all manners of world music. With Quiet Fire, he plays percussion instruments of Middle Eastern, African, Asian, Native American and Latin origins.

Although some listeners might be put off by the Quiet Fire CD's title, the disc is filled with music that has more meat than you might expect. It's not New Age so much as it is ambient music with diverse cultural inflections. Many tunes the trio plays, such as the haunting "Stars Over Sedona," have both melody and groove.

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