East Penn Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

Concert Review: Jake Shimabukuro: To the ukulele and beyond

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 by DAVE HOWELL Special to The Press in Focus

Armed with just a ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro captivated a capacity crowd Feb. 18, Musikfest Cafe, SteelStacks, Bethlehem.

Shimabukuro is probably the best-known virtuoso of the four-stringed instrument, taking it to unforeseen heights despite its range of only two octaves.

Dressed in a gray T-shirt and red pants, Shimabukuro had a friendly, low-key manner onstage, telling a number of stories throughout the one hour and 45-minute concert.

He began his opening 20-minute solo with the song that brought him worldwide fame on YouTube, a cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Shimabukuro performed the somewhat mournful, evocative original “Blue Roses Falling” and the traditional “Cherry Blossom, Cherry Blossom,” where he emulated the sound of the 13-string Japanese koto.

He was joined by Dave Preston on electric guitar, who did vocals on James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind.”

Jackson Waldhoff joined them on electric bass for a number of songs from the newly released CD “Trio” by the Jake Shimabukuro Trio. Preston appeared on the record, which had a different bassist.

“When the Masks Come Down” was jazz-inflected. “Summer Rain” had Shimabukuro picking over Preston’s melodic chording. “Red Crystal” featured flamenco shadings. “Wish You Were Here,” a Pink Floyd cover, included subtle electronic effects.

Shimabukuro ended with favorites. “Eleanor Rigby” was a showcase for his lightning fast uke work. On “Dragon,” a tribute to Bruce Lee, he played rocking electric guitar-type leads.

He invited the audience to sing along on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” where many read the lyrics off their phones. And the traditional “Kawika” was given a surf-rock arrangement.

Although he still serves as an ambassador for the ukulele, Shimabukuro seems to be moving past the point of just showing how many different things it can do. With the trio format, he is developing a unique sound, one that mixes jazz, less frenetic elements of rock, and even a bit of traditional Hawaiian music.

It is a welcome development that will make his music even more interesting in the years to come.