Jake Shimabukuro - Nashville Sessions
Several months ago I had the privilege of writing my first music review for Stereo Times, Al Di Meola’s Elysium. I recall commenting that while the album did not break any new ground it was on par with the level of excellence that I’d come to expect from Di Meola. In other words, it was enjoyable from the first track to the last.
Now comes my second music review, Jake Shimabukuro’s "Nashville Sessions." Now there’s a few things that you should know about this album: First, Shimabukuro plays the Ukulele. You read that right, the Ukulele. Second, despite the album’s title, there is nothing even remotely Nashville sounding about this album. This is not Country & Western music, but a dynamic trio with Shimabukuro on tenor, baritone, soprano and electric Ukuleles; Nolan Verner on bass; and Evan Hutchings on drums. The third thing to know is that unlike the Di Meola album, there is nothing typical about it. That fact is what made listening to Nashville Sessions such a joy.
In one of his many YouTube interviews Shimabukuro calls this a progressive rock album, but to me it seems more like a contemporary jazz recording with overtones of Rock, R&B, Spanish, Asian and even Celtic music. It is literally a journey through a myriad of musical textures. It opens with the brief but frenetically paced Hemiola Blues. It’s not really a long enough piece to get fully engaged but it is a great introduction to this trio’s prowess. To fully appreciate what Shimabukuro and his mates are capable of you’ve got to hear cuts like Man of Mud and Kilauea. Both of these tracks feature Shimabukuro rockin’ out in a way that will make you forget that he is playing an instrument made famous by Tiny Tim.
But since I consider myself still very much a fan of the so-called smooth jazz genre, I have to admit that I have a fondness for tunes such as Galloping Seahorses and Blue Haiku. These songs remind me quite a bit of luminous jazz guitarists such as Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton and Russ Freeman.
Other songs on this eleven track LP such as Celtic Tune and the aptly named Ballad are engaging, not because of power or drive – as was the case with Man of Mud and Kilauea - but because of the different musical textures they touch. These songs are more about the subtlety of musical performances instead of about just how much rockin’ you can do with such a small stringed instrument. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Shimabukuro plays the Ukulele for the novelty of it, there are numerous YouTube videos of the performances on this album that show him to be a musician who truly does become emotionally invested in his instrument and performances. You can’t ask for more out of a musician than that, regardless of what you may think of their instrument.
Jake Shimabukuro’s Nashville Sessions has been tremendously enjoyable for me to get into. I can easily say that I am into this musician as much as I am another musician who plays an instrument that you don’t ordinarily associate with the music he plays, and that musician is none other than the great Swiss harpist, Andreas Vollenweider. Anyone of my audiophile friends who has ever been to my house can attest to the fact that that is high praise indeed. I’m already looking forward to Jake Shimabukuro’s next album. I suspect that Nashville Sessions is only the tip of the iceberg for this talented musician.