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Published: 2016/02/02
by Jeff Tamarkin

Jake Shimabukuro
Travels

By now, it’s kind of a given that Jake Shimabukuro is the most innovative ukulele player on the planet (sorry, Eddie Vedder), and the most popular, with millions of YouTube hits and No. 1 placements on Billboard’s world music chart—that’s all old news for the Honolulu-born musician. He’s proven that he can adapt virtually any kind of song to his once-scorned instrument and create splendor. He’s got nothing left to prove, so on Travels, Shimabukuro just does what he loves: creating new mini-masterpieces of his own and transforming the most unlikely of tunes. In the latter category are two mind-melters, the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” played solo with refinement and dignity, and War’s slyly funky “Low Rider,” faithfully reproduced, growly, basso profundo vocal and all. Shimabukuro’s own compositions slip and slide happily from genre to genre, from the quasi-reggae “Red-Eye” to the Latinesque fusion of “Passport” to the solo introspection of the three-part “Departure Suite.” So rich are Shimabukuro’s harmonies, and so varied is his touch that, at times, it’s easy to forget that you’re listening to a ukulele. But it’s never possible to stop marveling.

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