Jake Shimabukuro – The Greatest Day

Sept. 1, 2018

Ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro has truly established himself as a master of the instrument over the few years that he’s been on the scene. I first caught him as one of the new up-and-coming artists aboard The Smooth Jazz Cruise a few years. I found the choice of instrument to be a curious one but was truly impressed with his command of it and his choice of covers to demonstrate his prowess.

Back then, he included a few of The Beatles’ tunes, and, on his newest release The Greatest Day, he still pays a small homage to the Fab Four as he competently covers “Eleanor Rigby” and a live and lengthy version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Certainly one of the bolder artists around (I mean who’d think of introducing the masses to what the ukulele can offer to a genre like c-jazz – and make it work?), Shimabukuro ignites a fire of curiosity here with gentle and catchy (not to mention smooth) melodies and hooks on originals that he intermixes with the covers he’s chosen.

I think one of the key differences here and when I saw and heard him on the cruise is that, in the studio and live, he’s now accompanied by a group of musicians who do very well in enhancing the instrument’s appeal in this genre (I stress “in this genre” because I’m sure in places like Hawaii, all you need is the instrument to create a festive air).

Tracks of note here include a very clever and creative (and lengthy) interpretation of Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” and his own title track and other originals like “Pangram,” the easy and light “Go For Broke,” the interestingly delicate but fusion-tinged “Little Echoes,” the live and funky cover of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” featuring some really nice guitar work by Dave Preston (who, I’m going to assume, is also providing vocals as that’s unclear in the credits), his live “Dragon” – an ostensibly unassumingly tender piece that picks up in intensity impressively as it progresses, and the previously mentioned long yet extremely innovative live cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

One observation I’ve made of Shimabukuro’s music is that his originals are well-conceived, and his imagination is considerable as he can turn a cover into a true work of art. If you haven’t already, you must experience this talented artist. – Ronald Jackson