When PR guy Mike Bloom turned me on to the phenomenal Jake Shimabukoro, I found my access point to Hawaiian music and thus discovered a number of very satisfying musicians from the paradise island, especially leo ki'eki'e (falsetto) singer and ukulele player Uncle Richard Ho'Oppi'i (who appears here to comment on Paiva), one of the world's vocal maestros. Then came another Jake, this time in female flesh, Brittni Paiva…or so it seemed, but in Paiva, one quickly discerns how the ukulele can be as subtly attuned to the player's personality and artistic bent as any other instrument. Right from the start, in her rendering of Take Five, this is crystal clear, and where everyone else goes pretty much to Brubeck for their baseline, Paiva appears to have listened to Al Jarreau's wondrous version and then slowed it down to a new waltz, something both Strauss and Haydn would delight in.
Living Ukulele is a combination of documentary, interview sessions, and concert, but it also has, as bonus features, a music video and uke lessons from Paiva, thus a way cool grab bag of sundry delights. There's even a clip of the performance that nabbed her that initial acclaim every artist busts his or her chops for, a rendering of a classical piece (Aranjuez, I think…I'm a little rusty) showing fidelity to the original along with the complexities involved in a ukulele recitative and a clever improv section interpolating the William Tell Overture while showcasing her fingerpicking dexterities. That segment flows into a performance of Cruisin' on 7, a tune that can't help but fling the audient back to the old days of Burrell, Montgomery, Green, and revered guitar masters who blended facility with gorgeous interpretations. Add in a bit of Al Di Meola's post-fusion work, maybe a trifle of Stanley Jordan and George Benson, and you pretty much have the guitar approximation of Paiva…'cause, as you may have noticed, there ain't exactly a plethora of ukulele players anywhere but in Hawaii.
As Paiva racks up awards for her music, performances, and this film, she's simultaneously an ambassador for her instrument and land. Thanks to people like her, Jake, and of course the marvelous antecedent musicians now gaining more exposure worldwide, interest in the uke, slack key guitar, and myriad Pacific refrains is growing. Just in my home town area—the SoCal beach cities—there is now more than one annual Hawaiian music celebration, with other events arising during the year. The reason is not difficult to discern: this music floats, as sunny and breezy as the fabled island and its culture, and can't help but bring a lazy balmy smile to every face, along with growing respect for the increasing modernizations.
Brittni's the main element here in all aspects, of course, and Living Ukulele is far more a first person perspective than most music films. That alone is different; I mean, when was the last time you saw Jon Anderson centering a Yes docu or Keith Jarrett conducting a tour of his musical life? Ya just don't, so hats off to Kenneth K. Martinez Burgmaier, producer and director, for that, and thus you not only intermittently enjoy a concert but solo clips, a duet in a ukulele shop, and much more, even a rendition of Santana's Europa in front of a nighttime lava field. Yow!
And, by the way, it's not pronounced 'you-kah-lay-lee' but rather 'ooo-kah-lay-lay'. And it isn't 'Pay-vah' but 'Pie-vah'. And I'm still 'Tuh-kerr' and just as 'iiiiiiiiiiim-pressssssssed' as the first moment I laid an ear to this woman's work. So is Tom Scott, 'cause he's producing her next CD, and there's a club date with him and her half way through the film. Ms. Paiva is just getting started, y'all, and that's cause for celebration.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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