Jake ShimabukuroJake Shimabukuro is a slight, young Hawaiian, with Popeye forearms, no doubt a by-product of regular workouts on his ukulele. Yes, ukulele; an instrument which he elevates from the spectre of mere toy to a virtuosic nobility usually more readily associated with, say ‘cello. Opening with a piece entitled ‘Let’s Dance’ (unrelated to the Bowie song), in Jake’s superhuman hands the uke becomes a replica Spanish guitar, allowing virtually all the nuance, sustain, romance, resonance & timbre of its bigger bro’.

There was a fever-pitched point in his SOH Studio performance when I was almost convinced he was going to suddenly immolate. This, at the dynamic height of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (the inspiration for the title of his latest album), which he imbues with its just emotional desserts, and then some.

Shima’s bio reveals he views his ‘ookoolaylay’ as being an ‘untapped source of music, with unlimited potential’. He proves this true, as he runs the gauntlet, from sweetly touching ballad (Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Ice-cream’), to jazz fusion (such as Chick Corea’s 'Spain'), mature pop (The Beatles’ ‘In My Life’), bluegrass (his own composition, ‘Orange’ World, inspired by touring with Bela Fleck), ethnic (Japanese) &, probably most astonishingly of all, classical (Franz Schubert’s sublime ‘Ave Maria’). The last, what’s more, had all the sensitivity of the finest pianoforte rendition.

To make the less musically prodigious among us even more envious, JS is engaging, chilled, charming, even disarming with his modest, unassuming patter, telling us ‘I’m used to playing coffee-shops’ and relating a story about a narrow-minded teacher, who once, un-prophetically, enquired, ‘what are you gonna do, Jake, play ukulele all your life?’; which reminded me of Einstein’s physics, or was it maths(?) teacher, who famously proclaimed, ‘Einstein will never amount to anything.’ He took up uke, at 4, because his mother played. He, clearly, hasn’t wasted a moment since, having been hooked from strumming his very first chord.

Allegedly, he’s not averse to technology, such as effect pedals, but there was none of the evident on the night. Indeed, apart from the unaffected accompaniment of his on-stage movement, percussive stomping and amplification (from which he demurred, for an acoustic encore), his presentation was relatively ‘pure’. This is evidence he’s emerged from the ‘fedback’ chrysalis which had him tagged as the Hendrix of the uke, as a mature master of his instrument: he’s now doing more, with less affectation.

Herein, I think, lies his real talent and the enchantment in his playing, for the depth and range of feelings he invokes and evokes reinvests the cliché ‘breathtaking!’ with new and potent force.

Incidentally, sound was practically sublime, but the lighting overwrought and, yet, incongruously ineffectual; rather, distracting and aggravating, flashing from non-vibrant hue to (unsym)pathetic colour, where even a single, old-fashioned follow-spot, or just a few pre-set mood changes, would’ve done the trick.

It’s not rocket science. While playing a limited instrument like the ukulele, to such powerful effect, is.


Venue: The Studio | Sydney Opera House
Dates/Times: 13 March @ 7.30pm & 9.30pm
Tickets: From $20 to $49 or $20 to $39 concession
Bookings: 9250 7777 or www.sydneyoperahouse.com/thestudio

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