The name Hiroshima may suggest the immense power of the atomic bomb, but no one can accuse the members of the band Hiroshima of having overblown egos.
"We've had success, relatively speaking, but it's not a 'Thriller' vibe," said Dan Kuramoto, flutist and saxophonist for the fusion band that will perform at Irvine Bowl at 7:30 p.m. Saturday during the first Laguna Beach Autumn Festival. "Our name doesn't exactly fall out of people's mouths like: Michael Jackson, the Beatles and Hiroshima."
Instead, Kuramoto added, "we trickle people to death."
That's putting the group's appeal perhaps a little too mildly. While it's true that none of the band's four albums have hit the Top 10 of the pop charts, Hiroshima's last album, "Another Place," remains on the jazz chart nearly a year after its release. Kuramoto said that sales during a recent five-day period were equal to the figure from last January and that the group has been named top jazz group of 1986 by the music trade publication Cash Box.
The Los Angeles quintet, which is regularly supplemented by three additional musicians, also recently returned from a successful first tour of several southern states. Kuramoto said even the band members were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by sold-out houses and fans who were intimately familiar with their music, which blends American jazz and rock with elements of traditional Japanese music.
"It was amazing," said Kuramoto, 36, "to be in San Antonio in a sold-out house where people knew every song we played."
Kuramoto considers Orange County one of the band's strongholds, to the extent that "we have a temptation to play Orange County too much. The audiences are very receptive, so we like to try out new material there. We know we'll get a good reading of how it will go over. The audiences in Orange County are receptive, but they are also very discriminating, and that's good for us."
It has been 10 years since Hiroshima was formed by Kuramoto, a third-generation immigrant born in Los Angeles, and his wife, June, the sole band member who was born in Japan. The other members--Johnny Mori, Danny Yamamoto and Barbara Long--are also Southern California natives of Japanese heritage.
Hiroshima, Kuramoto said, was meant to be a musical bridge between Eastern and Western cultures. It is one of the few groups to emerge during the late '70s fusion movement that is still in existence.
Kuramoto believes the band's continuing popularity reinforces his basic feeling that using traditional Japanese instruments such as the koto alongside state-of-the-art digital synthesizers is "obviously more than just a novelty."
In fact, when the group toured Japan in 1981, Kuramoto said, Japanese critics responded enthusiastically. "They wrote things like, 'Why don't our people try music like this?' " Kuramoto's favorite headline was one that read, "Different Countries, Same Heart."
"The koto," Kuramoto said, "is one of the most beautiful instruments in the world. If we know about it but don't share it, we're not living up to our responsibility. It's like if Horowitz decided not to play the piano or Coltrane decided not to play the sax. If you've got a gift, you've got to share it. That's part of the deal."
TO THE RESCUE: In a rare example of cooperation in the highly competitive world of concert clubs, operators of the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano have offered the use of their club to owners of Safari Sam's for benefit concerts to defray the cost of their fight to retain live entertainment.
Coach House owner Gary Folgner contacted Safari Sam's owner Sam Lanni on Wednesday, shortly before Lanni and nearly 150 Safari Sam's supporters staged a peaceful demonstration outside the Huntington Beach City Council chambers. (Among the supporters was another veteran Orange County club owner, Jerry Roach, whose Radio City in Anaheim was not allowed to reopen after a fire when the Anaheim City Council revoked his entertainment permit.)
No benefit shows for Safari Sam's have been scheduled, but numerous bands have offered to donate concerts to pay legal costs in Lanni's effort to persuade City Council members to reinstate the club's eclectic offerings of live music, theater and poetry.
Lanni's application for a new entertainment permit was denied by the Huntington Beach Police Department last week, but Safari Sam's attorney Gene E. Dorney is appealing the denial to the City Council. Dorney said Thursday that he has been told by the Planning Department that the club will also need a conditional use permit to continue operating.
Lanni has called for another demonstration at 6 p.m. Monday to show public support for the club before the regular City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Lanni plans to address the council on the issue during the open forum portion of the meeting. Dorney said he hopes to get the issue of live entertainment at Safari Sam's placed on the council's agenda for full discussion as soon as possible.