Ukelele is probably the last instrument you'd expect surprises from, so prepare for something of a shock, as I'm not sure the inventors of the tiny guitar ever expected this sort of thing even in their wildest dreams. This young gent is a phenom, and his mastery of an instrument that has, to this point, been either a novelty (Tiny Tim), an ethnic curiosity (numerous players far and wide), or a high-register device of distinctive side flavorings makes the axe with a foot-an'a-half fretboard a source of virtuosity and then some. In fact, Shimabukuro's doing something I've previously only ever heard exotic players like Egberto Gismonti pull off: the impossible.
Listen to the opening cut, a version of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps, after which the CD's named, and you'll hear inhuman feats, what with distinct chord and lead work occurring simultaneously...yet Shimabukuro has gone to lengths to note that it's indeed solo, as visual demonstrations have vouchsafed. Then jump over to Grandma's Groove and it's much speedier versions of the same, especially where he, in one section, maintains shockingly differentiated leads against strum patterns. Astounding!
The ukelele has never sounded so good, here a cross between dulcimer, harp and nylon-strung guitar. When Shimabukuro takes on the trads—in one case, Burke & Garner's Misty; in another, the Japanese folk song Sakura—the result is as pure as any Larry Coryell, Grant Green, or Jim Hall rendition, bristling with authenticity and depth, reverence even. And when he tackles Corea's Spain? Move over, o ye lions and greybeards, there's a brilliant new kid on the block. The song flies off the strings in a daunting twirl and ends up breathless while sparkling.
Of interest to FAME readers is the fact that folk/country/soft-rock figure Mac McAnally produced the main of the release in Nashville, sometimes using 20 microphones (!!) to catch the delicate but very clear sound correctly. Where the first dozen cuts are all solo exercises, the remaining five were chosen from various ensemble performances, trios to septets, demonstrating the other side of this wunderkind's abilities. In fact, Jake appeared on the Conan O'Brien Show and, in a trio, presented what seemed so far beyond credence. Not content to trot out his blinding acoustic chops, he, in the final measures, amped up and began riffing like Eddie Van Halen, to the crowd's wild delight in both cases.
And who was the guy Conan wanted to talk to as the episode faded to credits? That's right: the uke master. Stanley Jordan wowed us with his double-tapping wrinkles, Michael Hedges dazzled all and sundry with unorthodox applications, but Jake Shimabukuro has gone beyond that and achieved a level of musicianship completely unsuspected on one of the last instruments that would ever come up for such treatment. Trust me, you're just not going to believe what you hear.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Website design by David N. Pyles