It's been difficult for me to take the ukulele seriously as an instrument ever since I saw Tiny Tim squeak his way through "Tip Toe Through The Tulips" in his annoying falsetto. To be perfectly honest, up until a few years ago I did my best to avoid anything remotely connected to the instrument because of that association. I first started to overcome my prejudice while listening to the multi-instrumentalist virtuoso Bob Brozman and learning that the instrument was capable of doing much more than I had originally thought.
However, it's only now that I've listened to Jake Shimabukuro's forthcoming release, Jake Shimabukuro Live (April 14, 2009 on Hitchhike Records), that I've truly come to appreciate the ukulele. After listening to Jake play you can't believe that he's playing something with only four strings. There are plenty of six-string guitar players out there who would be hard pressed to do what's he's capable of doing with four.
The nearly 20 tracks on Live range from Shimabukuro's interpretation of classical pieces to his renditions of such pop classics as "Thriller" and George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." What's truly amazing about the show he puts on is that he holds your attention as a completely solo act; there's no band, nor orchestra, and nothing on tape backing him up. It's just Jake and his ukulele.
The ukulele is a four-string, two-octave instrument, making you think that it must be extremely limited as to the sounds that it produces. Not so, if you're a performer like Shimabukuro. He's able to squeeze sounds out of his instrument that will have you swearing he's playing a regular guitar. There's none of the "plink-plink" sound one would normally expect from a high pitched instrument like the uke, nor does he use it simply to keep rhythm by strumming a few chords. Instead he's turned it into a lead instrument that rivals the mandolin for its intricacy, and the guitar for its diversity of sound.