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.
Share this page
Review by Jonathan Widran