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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 17, 2006

ISLAND SOUNDS
Jake Shimabukuro 'unplugged' album dazzles with array of keen uke solos

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

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Jake Shimabukuro goes "unplugged" with a scaled-down recording that reflects his small shows the kind of thing he's doing on much of his current tour.

Stephen Jones and Bryan Kessler offer a second volume of relaxing instrumentals a tonic for the mind and body.

Afatia Thompson demonstrates star power in his solo CD debut, an eclectic bag of Polynesian pride, urban and pop flavah and a romantic, emotional style beneath a hip-hop veneer.

"GENTLY WEEPS" BY JAKE SHIMABUKURO; HITCHHIKE RECORDS

  • Genre: Solo 'ukulele instrumentals, world music

  • Distinguishing notes: Jake-chan is ichiban (No. 1) in Japan, where he has been touring. His new CD drops Tuesday, and it's uke unplugged, revealing Shimabukuro's raw artistry and rare intensity. The title is inspired by George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and Shimabukuro takes the tune on a magical ride. But there are more than covers he composed six of the dozen tracks. You'll also find five bonus cuts. The mood mix ranges from a sweet treatment of longtime Japanese favorite "Sakura" (Shimabukuro even pulls off some koto-like sounds on his uke), to a poignant take on "The Star-Spangled Banner," which Shimabukuro has done live numerous times at events. "Grandma's Groove" and "Heartbeat/Dragon" are album rousers. Jennifer Perri's voice has the fitting wallop for the vocal version (there's also an instrumental) of "Wish on My Star." For solemnity, there's "Ave Maria"; for romance, there's "Misty"; for dance-floor devotees, there's "Let's Dance"; for the film and TV fan, there's "Hula Girl," a catchy refrain from the movie, and Shimabukuro's rock-framed theme song for the Noggin Makaha-based "Beyond the Break" series. If it feels that Shimabukuro's everything and everywhere, you're right. He's the ubiquitous ukeman.

  • The outlook: His sheer talent should lure new fans.

  • Our take: Easily the most eloquent and commercial venture yet by the man.

    "HAWAIIAN HEALING JOURNEY; THE CONTINUING JOURNEY" BY STEPHEN JONES AND BRYAN KESSLER; WIRE & WOOD MUSIC

  • Genre: Instrumentals, with vocal flourishes

  • Distinguishing notes: This second volume of new-age music for healing has mind-opening, soul-filtering sounds derived from tranquil guitar (Kessler), bass (Jones), keyboards (Kit Ebersbach), nose flute and recorder (Ruth Komatsu), steel guitar (Ken Emerson) and occasional vocal accents (Maila Gibson). The music evokes blue skies, chirping birds, rippling waterfalls, sandy beaches, setting sun. You don't have to be in the midst of a massage to enjoy the ethereal sounds the healing, simply, may be experienced while driving home from a stressful day at work.

  • The outlook: This is medicine for the ears, eyes, tired mind, weary body.

  • Our take: Best for when you need to soothe your soul.

    "5:54" BY AFATIA; TIHATI PRODUCTIONS

  • Genre: R&B, pop, urban

  • Distinguishing notes: Afatia Thompson (using only his first name) is a former lead singer with the group Reign and a sometime performer in his family's Tihati Productions Polynesian revues. He reveals several sides of his eclectic artistry in his solo CD debut (due out Tuesday): an urban hip-hopper on "All I Got Featuring Cross'd Out," a Polynesian popster on "All Night Long," a romantic blues interpreter on "Love Won't Let Me Wait," a soul-stirrer on "Worship Medley," which features members of Reign, combining Samoan and English lyrics. One special entry with across-the-board appeal: the late Teddy Randazzo's voice opens "I Love You," a nostalgic never-before-recorded R&B tune that Randazzo co-composed and gave to Afatia before he died. One meaningful expression: "So Many Things," an obvious tribute to Afatia's older brother, Eli, whose spirit lives in this emotional ballad. The "5:54" title refers to Eli's and Afatia's football jersey numbers.

  • The outlook: Afatia is targeting the young and the hipwith his Polynesian-accented street-smart flavah. The end product is illuminating and there are elements that older audiences will appreciate if they seek, they will find. In other words, the hip-hop elements (including the visuals in the liner) could keep some folks away.

  • Our take: A totally cool next-generation star kind of a cross between Martin Nievera and Brian McKnight.

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.