A virtuoso of the ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro’s intensity exuded passion, peace and joy Friday night. Eyes shut, with a slight smile, he stomped and strolled around the stage of Helzberg Hall, his solo show presented by the Kauffman Center.
Shimabukuro’s set list mingled works off his new album “Grand Ukulele,” produced by Alan Parsons, with favorites from his extensive repertoire of original works and interpretations. And while Parsons’ projects are known for their epic proportions and legendary lineage, this was as close to the equivalent of an arena rock show as a solo ukulele performance could get: overzealous light show, fog machines and all.
The richness of tone he produced was astounding, considering the instrument has a two-octave range, but the ferocity of his strumming and intricate technique, coupled with drastic dynamic changes, gave the instrument an orchestral fullness.
Shimabukuro has revitalized the ukulele’s perception, with transformative covers of popular songs. He played George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the famous tune pierced by droplets of notes throughout the vigorous rendition. “Rolling in the Deep,” by Adele, featured heavy, toneless strumming as he slid his hand up and down the neck for a percussive effect. His version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a crowd favorite.
He presented many of his own tunes with personal asides, such as “Gentlemandolin,” written for his baby son. It’s a blossoming tune that emulated a mandolin, though with the fervency of rock and roll, as was also the case with “Ukulele Five-O.”
“Dragon” was Shimabukuro’s tribute to the electric guitarists who inspired him throughout his development. He ran the uke through an effects pedal, looping his accompaniment for a well-constructed piece that featured atmospheric note-bends and Moog-like effects, and a burning solo, straight out of a classic rock band act.
The show wasn’t all blistering action. “Missing Three” was an arpeggiated journey of a lullaby; the energy shift of the pensive “Blue Roses Falling” incorporated empty space and held breath, as did the delicate harmonics in Sting’s intimate “Fields of Gold.” He decorated the simple melody and steady eighth note accompaniment of “Music Box” with grace notes and wide intervallic cadences.
The only traditional Hawaiian song was his encore “Akaka Falls,” the rippling chords under the delicately placed melody, an evocative, peaceful coda to a powerful performance of blurred genres.