If you think the phrase “ukulele virtuoso” is an oxymoron, well, you’ve never heard the kind of instrumental magic that Jake Shimabukuro can make with a uke.
The 34-year-old Hawaiian native has been playing the ukulele for 30 years, but if this conjures up images of Don Ho, Arthur Godfrey or Tiny Tim, well, think again. These days, the uke seems to be everywhere.
Shimabukuro has propeled the ukulele into the 21st century in dramatic fashion, in large part due to his discovery on YouTube.com, where 8.5 million folks have watched and listened to his interpretation of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
He made his Nippertown debut a couple of years back at Mona Golub’s Music Haven Concert Series in Schenectady, and earlier this month at The Egg, Shimabukuro of course performed that song, as well as a couple of other covers – Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And to no one’s surprise it was all pretty jaw-dropping. One guy with four little strings playing Queen’s operatic progressive-rock masterpiece? Well, you just couldn’t help but be mightily impressed.
But Shimabukuro is capable of much more than simply performing unlikely pop tunes on what was once considered a novelty instrument. He has a masterful instrumental technique, allowing him to transform his uke into a classical piano (“Piano-Forte”), a 13-string Japanese koto (the traditional Japanese folk song “Sakura, Sakura”), a flamenco guitar (the dazzling “Let’s Dance”) and a full-scale arena rock band (“Bring Your Adz”).
For most of his 75-minute solo performance he focused on his original songs, and he pens solid tunes with strong rhythms, constantly shifting tempos and memorable melodies, such as “Five Dollars Unleaded,” which began as a celebratory joy-ride, slowed to a dramatic, needle-on-empty middle section and then roared back into a high-octane, full-tank roar.
In Shimabukuro’s hands, the tiny uke is no mere gimmick. And while he might attract listeners with the novelty of what he can do with it, by the end of the night he emerged as a true musical artist.
Opening the show was Ilo Ferreira, a singer-guitarist from Cape Verde, who was discovered by Jimmy Buffet. Accompanied by guitarist Kyle Rife, the personable Ferreira possesses a warm voice and songbag of shimmering folk-pop songs – including “Secret Stranger,” “I’m Home Again” and “Let Me Love You” – although he also performed the joyous “Fisherman Song” in his native language and his closing blues number showcased the considerable musicianship of Ferreira, Rife and saxman Klem Klimek, who joined in halfway through the impressive, 30-minute set.
Glenn Weiser’s review at Metroland
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “In his intros, and how he played everything, he was generous and nice, to the music, to the venue and to the audience. Yet his own compositions revealed more of Shimabukuro as an artist than the covers. His opening ‘143’ recalled the use of this phrase on pagers to say ‘I love you.’ He recalled seeing a Van Halen concert video as an inspiration to introduce ‘Bring Your Adz’ (an adz is smaller than an axe, slang for a guitar) and it included Van Halen riffs.”
JAKE SHIMABUKURO SET LIST
Bring Your Adz
Me & Shirley T.
Blue Roses Falling
Five Dollars Unleaded
Less Cowbell, More Ukulele
Sakura Sakura (traditional)
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)