Who else could turn “Bohemian Rhapsody” into a soothing lullaby? Or transform “Thriller” into a plucky acoustic jam? Embracing the palpable restrictions of the seemingly humble uke — just four strings, two lone chords and limited range — with the singular clairvoyance and invigorating musical genius to revolutionize the once-isolated “aloha-sphere” with an increasingly pluralistic blend of twanging rock, pop and of course, traditional island sounds, Jake Shimabukuro has skyrocketed the lesser-known ukulele scene into the international music spotlight.
A native of Hawaii, the youthful 34-year-old Shimabukuro is the world’s most recognized ukulele player and composer and was crowned “ukulele hero” by Rolling Stone after garnering a record-breaking eight million followers on YouTube for his rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Renowned for his complex fingerpicking and handling skills, he is one of the newest and youngest “axeman” to strum a hand-carved ukulele rather than wail on a long-necked bass.
Shimabukuro continues to explore his musical palate through covers and originals, having just released his 11th record titled Grand Ukelele. Produced by Alan Parson, best known for his work on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Grand Ukelele is by far Shimabukuro’s most collaborative effort, complete with the inclusion of a 29-piece orchestra, as well as new twists on the iconic “Over the Rainbow” and Adele’s power ballad “Rolling in the Deep.” Shimabukuro is doing for the ukulele what Bela Fleck did for the banjo.
Jake Shimabukuro plays 8 pm Tuesday, Oct. 23, at McDonald Theatre; $28-$43, $14-$21.50 stu.