I first met (and heard) Dae Han at the January 2017 preview screening for our (still in progress) Aloha Got Soul documentary film. He was the drummer for Maryanne Ito's outfit, which also featured Gilbert Batangan on bass and Jabari Prevost on keys. My first impression is still the same: Dae's swift, technical style suits just about any sound, from jazz and R&B to reggae and hip hop. That evening, they played mostly original tunes — in fact, the band was so good it convinced me from that moment that Maryanne needed to record a live album, to try and capture the magic of her performance. (Which eventually happened!)
Down the road, Dae and I got to know each other, seeing each other at various gigs as time went on. We have many mutual friends, as you might expect, but also plenty of things in common. We both spent much of our youth skateboarding and making beats; a major influence being J Dilla and his Donuts album (I didn't fully appreciate that album until I learned it was Dilla's last before passing, a letter to loved ones and, in many ways, his last words before departing this earth).
At some point, Dae told me he was working on a solo EP with the help of a friend, Nelson Cho. They'd spent many hours at Nelson's Lightworks Recordings in Wahiawa working on more than a dozen tunes and countless beats.
One day, Dae invited me to the studio to check out a few rough drafts. Honored that he offered, I went. What I heard were the beginnings of BLUE, a collection of tunes that Dae envisioned telling the story of his journey as an artist, from his years on the East Coast (in D.C. and New York), to Honolulu where he thrives today.
The drafts were rough, so I left the door open, happy to provide any feedback along the way. There was still much work to be done on his and Nelson's part — tightening arrangements, finding the right singers, filling in gaps and waiting on those crucial epiphanic moments to arrive.
Months passed, and while I hadn't heard much from Dae about the project itself, I caught plenty of his shows that always inspired and impressed me, just like that first time I saw him playing with Maryanne Ito at the Surfjack hotel.
There was the band Dae put together for Takuya Kuroda when the trumpeter came to town for a headline show at the Blue Note Hawaii. Or the trio he, Gilbert Batangan and Mark Tanouye created to open for Khruangbin at The Republik. Or the Christmas "Singer's Special" he organized with saxophonist Nick Kaleikini last year, to celebrate the talents of Mindy Smokestack, Amanda Frazier, Nick Kurosawa, and Maryanne Ito. I still think about the jungle-ized (i.e. breakbeat) version of a Herbie Hancock tune Dae presented at his Atherton performance. Mind blowing!
And of course, every year Dae utilizes his Dae Han Ensemble (some of us joke he should abbreviate it to "Dae Hansemble") to pay tribute to J Dilla with a jazz-forward approach to reinterpreting the producer's classics before a live audience. It's always a treat to catch. I only wish they were recording of these performances available so others outside of Hawaii could hear it, too.
One day, Dae told me that BLUE was finished. He was readying its release for the end of 2019.
I wanted to help, but I hadn't heard it since its draft state months prior, so I wasn't sure what it sounded like. But after witnessing a year's worth of incredible performances, I knew his album would be a standout effort. Nelson sent the final tracks over.
For the next week I listened to almost nothing else but BLUE.
From the opening chords of "DC2NYC" I knew, here was something special. The song's sequel hit, "DC2NYC2", and to my delight Maryanne Ito opens the tune (love her!), followed by the unstoppable Shing02 and his longtime collaborator, Spin Master A-1. With the help of saxophonist Nick Kaleikini, the title track "BLUE" sways confidently toward the next tune, the head-nodding groover "Honolulu Jazz" that immediately convinced me, this is gonna a great record.
So I approached Dae to make this a record. "Put it on wax", via Aloha Got Soul. Dae was down.
We'll share more details about the full release as time moves on. Today, we're moving forward with the first single: "DC2NYC2" is now available on Spotify, Bandcamp, and other digital platforms. The full release is coming in February 2020.
Listen now to "DC2NYC2" featuring Maryanne Ito, Shing02 and Spin Master A-1.