The four-string, two-octave mini-guitar known as the ukulele was invented in Portugal, but it was so warmly embraced by Hawaiians in the late 19th century that it has been a staple of the islands' traditional music ever since. Only occasionally has the instrument had much success in other genres: Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards used it to become a vaudeville star; Ian Whitcomb to become a British music hall revivalist and Carmaig DeForest to become a folk-punk cult figure.
Jake Shimabukuro grew up as a traditional Hawaiian musician, but the 28-year-old virtuoso is the first ukulele player to also tackle rock, jazz, classical, flamenco and bluegrass repertoire with success. In the process, he has recorded with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, has become a celebrity in Japan and was voted Entertainer of the Year at the 2004 Hawaii Music Awards. Shimabukuro's fourth solo album, "Dragon," showcases his astonishing dexterity, as he runs through tricky passages with remarkable speed and fluidity.
Unfortunately, the album also reveals his weakness for the worst aspects of smooth jazz -- the self-indulgent flash, the pointless scale runs, the cloying melodies, the easy-listening string and keyboard pads, and the mechanical funk grooves. Whether he's adapting Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," composing tributes to movie stars Bruce Lee (the title track) and Shirley Temple ("Me & Shirley T.") or quoting familiar pop melodies in original tunes, Shimabukuro's facility is far more impressive than his creativity.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere.