On his most recent album Grand Ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro showcases the lengthening of his ukulele and range of coverage the instrument provides. In the opening trio of songs on the album, Shimabukuro identifies with several musical setups, including a tight-tempo jazz combo style on “Ukulele Five-O,” a more orchestrated foundation on “Gentlemandolin,” and his solo acoustic version of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.” At times, his ukulele is met with emotional production instrumentals of string and woodwind sections, though his instrument still seems to guide the full arrangements for the listener.
On this recording, Shimabukuro took fresh ideas into the studio with Alan Parsons at his home studio, a collaboration that proved to be an insightful learning process. Recording the album completely live gave the opportunity for the music to define itself, and there is a recognizable sense of patience that is brought out with this setup. In his career, it’s been some of Shimabukuro’s cover arrangements that have reached a wider audience, indicative of his choosing tracks like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Rolling In the Deep” and Sting’s “Field’s of Gold,” which span more than demographics.
“Gentlemandolin” takes the listener on a curious journey where the warm string sections pace the flow of the song. On this track the ukulele takes a secondary role to the rest of the intense orchestration. “Island Fever Blues” presents some of the record’s most serious and focused melodies, and closes with one of his most impressive octave runs. Shimabukuro gives a voice to his ukulele which is expressed in varying tempos, chord progressions and dynamics; that voice takes on a relatable tone through the songs.
Jake Shimabukuro brings a spiritual and meditative personality out of his ukulele while playing, and that characteristic is captured well within Grand Ukulele. He shows both an aggressive and reflective musical quality throughout the record, and continues to test the boundaries of the ukulele.