Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele – Dragon – Hitchhike Records HRCD-1104 ****:
Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele – Gently Weeps – Hitchhike Records HRCD-1105 ****:
Just hearing any of either of these albums without prior knowledge, most listeners would probably think “that’s a pretty good guitarist – lots of original ideas.” Truth is 28-year-old Shimabukuro – from a Hawaii-based Japanese family – has transformed the lowly four-string, two-octave ukulele familiar in corny Hawaiian music. He has made it a wonder-instrument which is capable of doing jazz, rock, flamenco, classical, pop — electric or acoustically. The Boston Globe dubbed him The Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele. (Perhaps his version of The Star-Spangled Banner on the second disc prompted that.) He’s doing something with the uke like Bela Fleck does with the banjo; he even opened a concert for Fleck. He has also performed with or opened for Darol Anger, Bobby McFerrin, Mike Marshall, Les Paul Diana Krall and Stanley Clarke among others.
All dozen tracks on his first CD are originals by Shimabukuro, although one is his variations on a theme from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. He plays keyboard on one track and acoustic guitar on two others. He is assisted by bass and drums on most tracks and by flute on three of them and organ on one. Plus a string section on three tracks and a string quartet on a fourth. Delightful stuff and fun listening. This is NOT typical “Hawaiian music,” in case that wasn’t clear.
In the second CD Jake, except for five bonus tracks at the end, goes entirely solo ukulele. The disc’s title comes from George Harrison’s song While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and the jazz standards Misty (Erroll Garner) and Spain (Chick Corea) get almost orchestral impact out of the small four-stringed uke. It’s mind-blowing. Who would ever think such rich sounds and virtuosity could come out of this little toy instrument which for most of us was just a steppingstone to a regular guitar or whatever? Must be heard to be believed!
Oh, the bonus tracks are nice too, Jake having some assistance from fellow musicians again. One of the tracks is from his music for a TV show and two of the others come from his music for a movie that’s probably more popular in Hawaii than in the continental U.S. – it’s titled Hula Girl.
DRAGON Tracklist: Shake It Up!, Dragon, Circle of Friends, Me & Shirley T., Floaters, 3rd Stream, Touch, En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor, Toastmanland, Making A Perfect Yesterday, Looking Back, With U Always.
WEEPS Tracklist: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Ave Maria, Wish On My Star, Sakura, The Star-Spangled Banner, Let’s Dance, Misty, Spain, Heartbeat/Dragon, Blue Roses Falling, Grandma’s Grave, Breathe, Angel, Lazy Jane, Hula Girl, Beyond the Break, Wish On My Star (vocal version)
– John Henry