Peace, Love, Ukulele

Jake Shimabukuro

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Peace, Love, Ukulele Review

by William Ruhlmann

The popularity and respect accorded to different musical instruments changes over time with, for example, the saxophone having been considered a novelty until jazz musicians discovered it and began finding ways to express themselves with it. The ukulele has also been considered a novelty for a long time, having only four strings and a range of only two octaves, such that it has mostly been played by children. Hawaii native Jake Shimabukuro was four years old when he started playing one, and he has continued to ever since, apparently taking its limitations as a challenge. Shimabukuro gained recognition when his version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" went viral on Youtube (an appropriate choice, since songwriter George Harrison was a big ukulele fan), but as he shows on much of Peace, Love, Ukulele (released by Hitchhike Records with distribution by Jimmy Buffett's Mailboat Records), he is more interested in his own original compositions. The ear-catching cover here is Shimabukuro's nearly unaccompanied version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (there's also a take of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"), which is a cute idea, since it seems like such an ambitious piece even if it does break down into a few sections, each with its own tune. But actually more ambitious are Shimabukuro's own numbers, starting with "143 (Kelly's Song) 2011," on which he is accompanied by a string quartet. He shows off just how fast his fingering can be on "Bring Your Adz," but turns slow and mournful on "Go for Broke," featuring Noel Okimoto's martial drums. "Trapped 2010" is a duet with Iggy Jang's violin, a tune "inspired by Ralph MacDonald." It's hard to say how much improvisation is involved in this playing (it sounds composed most of the time), but the musical style for the most part probably should be deemed "contemporary jazz," if only for lack of a better description. Actually, the music also has pop/rock aspects, especially in "Ukulele Bros.," written by Bruce Shimabukuro, who pairs with his brother on a sort of dueling ukulele tour de force. Whatever the style is, Jake Shimabukuro bids to make the ukulele a respectable instrument on this album, as he has on its predecessors.

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