If there was ever a name on the ukulele circuit that needs no introduction, then it’s Jake Shimabukuro. The reputation of this lightening fingered impresario perpetually proceeds him and I recall seeing Jake perform at GNUF in 2019 where he shared the stage without ego with his guitarist and bass player. This is my primary recollection of the performance. He purposely directed plenty of limelight on his band mates to make the audience appreciate the brilliant skills of each of them, not just himself. This generous and levelling attitude is thrust forward again here on Jake’s new album. The retro artwork shows outlines of all instruments, without individual focus, and whilst Jake’s name may be central, the very title indicates we are here to listen to a band, not a soloist. With these thoughts in my mind before I’ve even hit play, my interest is excitedly peaked. Let’s go through Jake’s new album together shall we?
This instrumental assemblage begins with When The Mask Comes Down, the ukulele and heavy guitar building on a pulsing bass line. The sinister chord shifts of Twelve follow, a slightly disturbing composition which would happily feel at home on the soundtrack of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Resistance too then could add some optimism to that fictitious flick with its defiant title although the guitar part leans more to Westerns than anything more malevolent. The ukulele part here is delicious, a barrage of perfectly paced notes as Jake effectively acts as a live arpeggiator while the midway melodic lull is a Bowie-like sci-fi fantasy.
Lament does exactly as one would expect, some heavenly picking with a feather light accompaniment while Red Latin, adds, well you guessed it, some Latin rhythm and style. One cannot say the titles don’t deliver! The bass of Morning Blue provides a solid yet gentle picking ridge of which to build the uplifting ukulele melody while the guitar shimmers around them both. Summer Rain again delivers a spirit enhancing melody, this time Dave Preston moves impressively to some picked acoustic guitar. Wish You Were Here then breathes that very same air into the lungs of the Pink Floyd classic.
Fireflies keeps the acoustic guitar flying with some great slide and blues before Waialae, of course, adds a dash of the traditional sounds of Honolulu. I pause here to reflect how the album has gone from such a heavy opener to this homage of the classic island sound. And I’m eager, also, to add my appreciation for the wee solo bass runs from Nolan Verner here that really give the track some lovely punctuated flow. It’s interesting how such flourishes can really add something special to a piece.
As we approach the last few tracks On The Wing saddens us and Strong Is Broken, perhaps ironically, fills one with optimism. Landslide draws the album to its conclusion, a cover of the Fleetwood Mac classic. As gorgeous as this is, I did feel it “tagged on” as Strong Is Broken was a smooth and uplifting conclusion to this wonderful selection of vocal-less pieces. I was wrong. The more I listen to this coda, vocals flawlessly performed by Rachel James, I treat it as an encore, one final salute to such an inspiriting album and now I cannot imagine “Trio” without it. It’s a finishing layer of gloss with its heartwarming glow. Curious and indeed well informed readers will know Rachel is no stranger to the band as she and Dave Preston can be found together again in folk rock band Dearing. Tsk, it’s all about who you know.
The musicianship is second to none. That should be as plain as your nose on your favourite emoji. There’s also certainly a style to it, the ukulele usually taking the melody with unblemished support from the bass and guitar. But all the while the album is bursting with considerable variation, thought and texture. Jake Shimabukuro seems to be taking us even further over the ukulele rainbow with this album, it’s a complete journey of sound and construction, three instruments and 14 strings magically fusing together in all their guises. “Trio” is a refined integration of instrumental style, immaculately executed and brimming with warmth and sentiment.
You’ll find Jake Shimabukuro all over the web, of course, but the official website is always a good place to start.