Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jake Shimabukuro: Live

Hitchhike Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.6.09
Buy CD: Jake Shimabukuro Live

Jake Shimabukuro is an unbelievably talented musician who, except for a relatively small fan base, remains almost unknown.

Why, you may wonder?

He plays the ukulele, that “cute” little instrument usually associated with grass skirts, college kids in raccoon coats during the roaring '20s and vaudeville acts. (Remember Tiny Tim?)

As Shimabukuro has noted, “Climbing on stage with a ukulele in hand is a great advantage with an audience, because they have such low expectations.”

The ukulele has only four strings, is almost small enough to fit into a backpack, and most often is played by strumming all four strings at once, using the other hand to obtain the desired chord changes; the result often is a “tinny-plinky” sound that isn't very musical.

Well, as Tony Soprano was fond of saying, fuggedaboudit.

In Shimabukuro's hands, the ukulele becomes as lyrical, moving and beautiful as any stringed instrument you've ever heard. More importantly, it can swing!

Shimabukuro, born and raised in Hawaii, began to play the instrument at age 4 (“because my mother played it”) but didn't start lessons until a few years later. Once in high school, after hearing artists such as Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, Shimabukuro began to play the ukulele like a guitar.

This album features excerpts from live concerts he has given in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and several Japanese cities. Most of the tunes are his compositions, or interpretations based on chord structures from standards; the rest run the gamut from traditional Japanese songs to J.S. Bach and Chick Corea.

All border on amazing. Shimabukuro's tone, dexterity and musical quality are phenomenal.

Someday we may be fortunate enough to hear this guy in person; until then, be grateful that we have him on CD!

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