Jake Shimabukuro has been redefining what the ukulele is capable of for the last 20 years, and on February 14, 2020, he returns with his new album Trio, his first on Music Theories Recordings, a division of Mascot Label Group. Ahead of this they reveal a stunning reworking of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” which you can listen to HERE. Trio will be released digitally, on CD, and on colored double vinyl.
“People call me an ‘ambassador for the ukulele,’ but I really don’t see myself that way,” Shimabukuro says. “I’m simply a fan of the instrument. Ever since I was a kid, I just loved playing it, and over time, I started to realize that you could do more than just play traditional songs on it. You can play heavy metal riffs and make different sounds. You can make it rock like an electric guitar. There’s no end to what you can do on the ukulele, and it’s been rewarding for me to show that to people all over the world. I still love and respect traditional music, but I also enjoy exploring other sounds on the instrument.”
Re-imaging beloved classics has become a Shimabukuro specialty, and to celebrate the announcement of the new album, he and the band have their own unique way with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” The suggestion to record the song came from Shimabukuro’s longtime manager, Van Fletcher, a dedicated Floyd fan who had given the ukulele titan the album of the same name years ago and pressed him to listen to it – which he did. Acting on such inspiration, the three musicians turn in a glorious reading – the blend of Preston’s rustic guitar lines, Verner’s richly intuitive bass playing along with Shimabukuro’s ravishing treatment of melodies is one of the album’s standout moments.
For the past five years, bassist Nolan Verner has been a constant presence on stage and in the studio with Shimabukuro, and two years ago, guitarist Dave Preston joined the fold. The three clicked so well on the road and during the recording of Shimabukuro’s 2018 album, The Greatest Day, that the ukulele master decided to document their sonic alchemy in a more official way on his newest album, Trio. Unlike previous releases that sometimes featured studio musicians, this would be a true band album, with the only sounds performed by Shimabukuro, Verner and Preston, and many of the songs would be written spontaneously in the studio. In this way, Trio marks a bold and exciting new era in Shimabukuro’s already remarkable career.
Early 2019, Shimabukuro, Verner and Preston holed up in Nashville’s Sound Emporium studio with only a few snippets of riffs and melodies fleshed out, and over the course of a week jams took flight and became songs. Guiding the process was producer R.S. Field (Steve Earle, Webb Wilder, John Mayall, Sonny Landreth). “Fearless” aptly describes how they created “When the Masks Come Down,” the opening track on Trio. A beguiling mix of ambient, Edge-like patterns, incandescent melodies and mammoth hard-rock crunch, it unfolded like magic during a studio jam. “Twelve” is a bewitching metaphysical mood piece. Shimabukuro based its structure on Set Theory, a branch of mathematics that also corresponds to the 12 tones of the Western music scale. Shimabukuro has always loved the traditional Hawaiian song “Wai’alae,” and has fond memories of performing it with fellow islanders the Side Order Band on his first tour of Japan some 25 years ago.
The three musicians spread the waters of pastoral folk on the heavenly “On the Wing” while the title of “Strong in the Broken Places” comes from a line in an Ernest Hemingway quote. The album could have ended there and been considered a triumph, but Shimabukuro, Verner and Preston conclude Trio with an incandescent version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” that features a sparkling vocal performance by Rachel James from Denver-based folk-rock band Dearling.
It’s fitting that 21 years after his first release, Shimabukuro is continuing to push boundaries on both the instrument and himself. What would the 4 year old Jake make of the adult Jake now in 2019, from trying to master those first three chords to playing in front of Queen Elizabeth II, touring the world playing some of the not only most iconic venues, but iconic landmarks. He brings a new way to approach an instrument with only four strings and two octaves that has inspired others to pick up the ukulele worldwide. Trio marks another chapter in his remarkable story so far and feels as fresh and inventive as his earliest releases.
2020 will prove to be another landmark year for Shimabukuro, with a second special release to follow later in the year, where he collaborates with a number of high-profile guests. Jake & Friends will feature artists such as Lyle Lovett, Bette Midler, Jack Johnson, Jon Anderson (Yes), Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule), Moon Taxi, Ray Benson (Asleep At The Wheel), and Michael McDonald (The Doobie Brothers) among others. More details to follow.