Shimabukuro uses an electric
ukulele for some of the songs
on his "Crosscurrent" album
Whoa! ... Is that an actual electric guitar that we hear on ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro's new album??
Wait a minute ... no worry, beef curry. "It's all ukulele. I tried to really do the electric ukulele thing on this album. There's no guitar in there," Shimabukuro told us last week by phone from Santa Monica, Calif., to fill us in on "Crosscurrent," his second solo album, which arrives in local record stores today.
There's been some confusion about when the album would be available here, since "Crosscurrent" has been available in Japan for almost two months.
Shimabukuro did an eight-show, two-week tour of Japan to support the album's early release there and found fans there especially responsive to his electronic work.
"They really like the distortion stuff. ... A lot of them couldn't believe it was a ukulele, and that kind of made me feel good," he said.
"The theme of it is crosscurrent, and we were playing off of that theme, going against what you would normally think of when you hear an ukulele album."
On that score, Shimabukuro has achieved his goal and then some. His new album shows that he can "play the ukulele (to sound) like a guitar," and his willingness to experiment could do for the ukulele what Les Paul did for the guitar a half-century ago.
On the other hand, the electronic "distortion" of the ukulele's traditional sound could be considered anathema, so Shimabukuro wisely refrains from straying too far. He balances out the experimentation with a couple of songs for those who would be more comfortable with familiar melodies played on an acoustic instrument.
Take "Mrs. Robinson" for example. "I've always loved Paul Simon's songwriting, and I've always liked that song. It's very catchy, and because I did so much rock-oriented stuff, I wanted to have at least some ballads and have some acoustic ukulele stuff, a few songs that people would recognize and be able to relate to -- the ones who can't relate to the heavy distortion stuff."
As for his decision to record "Spain," Chick Corea's popular fusion jazz composition, Shimabukuro says he's wanted to record it long before his days with Pure Heart.
"When I was working at House of Music, a co-worker of mine, David Chong, was a guitar player, and we used to play that song as a ukulele-guitar duet at the store all the time. I just fell in love with that song, and we were going to record it together. But that didn't pan out."
Shimabukuro will return to Hawaii Friday and play his first post-release show at the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center the next day. Joining him on Saturday on will be the two core members of his studio band, bassist Ryan "Jah Gumby" Murakami (from the popular reggae band Ooklah the Moc) and drummer Seann Carroll.
Murakami is a old friend of Shimabukuro's from Kaimuki High School, and Carroll and Shimabukuro worked together in their previous band Colón.
"There's actually less instruments on this one than on (the first album) 'Sunday Morning.' On that one we did a lot of sequenced stuff and a lot of keyboards, but on this one we pretty much kept it raw -- drums and bass were my core band. On one song we brought in some horns, and that was cool. I'd never worked with horns before. There's more live instruments with this album."
Even so, it's the guitarlike effects that people are going to notice.
"The feel of the album definitely changed, and I'm very curious to see what people's reactions are going to be. I know that in Japan the 'Crosscurrent' album was received better than the first one, in my opinion. A lot of them like this album a lot more."
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