A year ago, I panned Jake’s last record as being nothing like his concert performances, writing, “Shimabukuro’s infectious live energy all too often seems to slip under the waters of smooth jazz.” Maybe he took it to heart, because this new album strips away all the marshmallowy instrumental padding, leaving the essence of Jake’s live act: just him and a ‘uke. Producer Mac McAnally even set up 11 microphones throughout the studio so Shimabukuro could roam freely while playing—just as he does on stage. The result is lean, precise and riveting; Shimabukuro remains unrivaled in his ability to wring every bit of a song’s potential from his axe. The song selection here draws directly from Shimabukuro’s recent tour repertoire, including crowd-pleasers such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Ave Maria,” and obviously benefits from the polishing rigors of live performance. Shimabukuro’s originals don’t disappoint either. “Let’s Dance” is a rousing Spanish workout, and slower numbers such as “Misty” and “Blue Roses Falling” are saved from schmaltz by the spare instrumentation.
Kudos to Shimabukuro and his producers for capturing his live prowess on wax. To this listener’s ears, Gently Weeps is Shimabukuro’s best yet.