Jake Shimabukuro

Dragon

(CD - Hitchhike Records #1104)

Review by

It's hardly surprising that this Hawaiian-born ukulele master so impressed Béla Fleck that the jazz-banjo great had Jake Shimabukuro not only open concerts, but also record with the Flecktones. Just as Fleck revolutionized the way musicians and fans heard the banjo, Shimabukuro -- in 2002, he was the first uke player from Hawaii to sign with Epic Records International -- takes his instrument out of the traditional Don Ho gentle-pluck realm and into an explosive multi-genre landscape. Rock/fusion aficionados will love the snappy intensity of Dragon's rumbling opening jam, "Shake It Up!," which pits his lightning quick, flamenco-flavored runs over crackling electric guitar and feisty programming. This frenetic track may prepare the listener for a chops-heavy project, but it's clear that Shimabukuro is equally interested in strong melodies and harmonies, and stylistic variety. The title track, inspired by longtime hero Bruce Lee, has a more traditional Asian flavor, complemented with symphonic synth washes which add a tasty mix of beauty and drama. Aside from his versatile playing, the collection's strength lies in its unpredictability from track to track. So while the laid-back "Circle of Friends" would be comfortable amongst any of smooth jazz guitarist Marc Antoine's best works, "3rd Stream" is exotic, percussive jazz designed as a bubbly showcase for Shimabukuro's great dexterity, and "Touch" taps into a melancholy classical mode. The string section, arranged and conducted by Matt Catingub, play a prominent, romantic role throughout. You can feel the island breezes here and there, but Shimabukuro's approach to his native instrument is equally at home on the gritty streets of Manhattan.

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