Jake Shimabukuro – Trio

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Anyone who got in on the ground floor with YouTube may well remember one of the first videos that ever went viral – of a young guy sat in Central Park, casually playing a wonderful ukulele rendition of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Well, that young guy was Jake Shimabukuro and 16.5 million views later he’s still going strong, redefining the way we think of uke music. And now, 15 years on, we reach ‘Trio’, album number 13.

Shimabukuro has also finally recorded an album with his regular touring band – namely, Nolan Verner on bass and Dave Preston on guitar – and that’s it, no more, no less (obviously, the album’s called Trio!).

It sees “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele” (© BBC Breakfast) tackling a mellow selection of self-penned material and carefully selected covers for your delectation. The aforementioned Hendrix comparison may be a bit of a misnomer. Listen to just a few minutes of ‘Lament’ (see above) and you soon realise that the main influence on display here is David Gilmour. A brief, classical intro gives way to some seriously Floydian swoops of lap steel guitar that are very ‘Dark Side’, very ‘Dark Side’ indeed.

‘Resistance’ too, while sounding like a great, long forgotten film theme, has definite gossamer swathes of Floyd ambience, swirling FX giving way to a twanging, stinging solo. The whole Gilmour love-in comes to a head with a gorgeous interpretation of ‘Wish You Were Here’ – Shimabukuro letting his technique and respectful appreciation fly free. It builds, adding layers of sound before floating into space.

But it’s not all ‘Dark Side of the Uke’, oh no. A myriad of styles and genres are explored. Opening track, ‘When The Masks Come Down’ weaves a lovely bassline with some crunching riffage, while still managing to feel very ‘jazz’. ‘Red Crystal’ adds more than a touch of Latin/Flamenco to it’s playful, almost mathematical construction.

‘Morning Blue’ is a wafting ambient drone, a delicate, unassumingly beautiful melody eventually takes off it’s glasses and shakes loose it’s hair. ‘Fireflies’ features some dusty slide and some chilled Country Blues…Cooder would surely approve.

As would George Harrison of the whimsical ‘On The Wing’, a lovely, flawless homage to The Quiet One’s unique slide sound. And of course, this being a ukulele album, there has to be a traditional Hawaiian tune. And it’s everything you’d expect it to be, you can feel the warm sand between your toes and the caress of a lei around your neck…plus it has a bass solo so, y’know, what’s not to love?

We end on a faithful cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’, with Rachel James supplying some uncanny Stevie Nicks vibes. It’s a lovely way to end what is possibly Shimabukuro’s finest album to date – beautifully produced and played with a subtle, unshowy perfection. Despite all the styles on display it feels, more than anything else, like jazz. No, don’t let that put you off. Good jazz, warm, inclusive, accessible jazz. ‘Kind Of Blue’, not ‘Interstellar Space’. There are no free noise detours here and although it very rarely rocks, it makes for an exceedingly agreeable late night chillout soundtrack.

Review by Gary Cordwell

Released on 14 February 2020 by Music Theories Recordings

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Track list:

  1. When The Masks Come Down
  2. Twelve
  3. Resistance
  4. Lament
  5. Red Crystal
  6. Morning Blue
  7. Summer Rain
  8. Wish You Were Here
  9. Fireflies
  10. Waialae
  11. On The Wing
  12. Strong In Broken Places
  13. Landslide