Artist: Jake Shimabukuro
Album: Live in Japan
Label: Hitchhike Records/eOne Music
Release Date: 02/26/2016
The novelty wore off a while ago. That was undoubtedly part of Jake Shimabukuro’s plan all along.
A ukulele virtuoso and world-music ambassador, the nimble-fingered Hawaiian has done more than anybody else in recent years to garner respect for an instrument long dismissed as too kitschy to be taken seriously. His new concert album, Live in Japan, won’t damage his reputation, or that of the ukulele, in the slightest.
Warmly recorded, with pristine sound quality, the jazzy Live in Japan is a polished two-CD “best of” collection of sorts, as Shimabukuro’s trio, including keyboardist Michael Grande and bassist Nolan Verner, smartly tackle a handful of originals from his latest studio LP Travels and journey through his past, lightly. His dazzling, yet always tasteful, chops on full display. Shimabukuro lets loose in the red-hot, frenzied “Orange World,” deftly navigates tricky progressions in a cascading “Travels” and flutters gracefully around “Dragon,” before tight, vigorous ukulele strumming cedes the stage for a searing electric guitar solo.
Capped off by Shimabukuro’s classic, 10-minute version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which adventurously tests the boundaries of the original and daringly explores improvisational possibilities, Live in Japan also offers him a chance to surgically remove the bombast from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and purify its melodic essence. More lively and fun, an opening medley that includes a funky rendition of War’s “Low Rider” exudes a sunny joy that the crowd responds to, while “Ichigo Ichie” and “Oama” are delicately and softly rendered. Somewhere, Don Ho is smiling.
– Peter Lindblad