Halfway through Jake Shimabukuro's new album, "Grand Ukulele," Alan Parsons' uninflected monotone breaks in to paraphrase the immortal words of actor Christopher Walken: "My name is Alan Parsons. I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more ukulele. Got to have more ukulele."
The moment is a jarring one, but not unexpected. As with his other ukulele-driven albums, the Japanese-American virtuoso's new recording is filled with stripped-down, jazz-combo-style cuts. But this one is juiced with intense (but not overly intrusive) orchestration by onetime Beatles and Pink Floyd collaborator Parsons and covers of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," "Over the Rainbow" and Sting's "Fields of Gold."
"It was the greatest recording experience of my life," Shimabukuro says of the album released last month, speaking by phone from his tour bus in Seattle. "I couldn't tell if [Parsons] was joking or serious when he asked [to produce the album]. You don't think of a solo ukulele record when you think of Alan. You're thinking 'Dark Side of the Moon,' 'Eye in the Sky.' "
But letting Parsons assume orchestral control over "Grand Ukulele" was just fine by the Hawaii-born musician, whose performance Friday at the Kravis Center comes the night before his 36th birthday. His young and prolific solo career has been filled with these boundary-pushing moments, starting when a 2006 YouTube video of the artist performing a muscular rendition of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" went viral.
"I got into blues and rock guys — especially Eddie Van Halen — when I was young, but it never dawned on me to put the ukulele down and pick up a guitar," Shimabukuro recalls. "The energy of rock shows is so intoxicating. That's what a ukulele concert should seem like. I didn't care about the music I played. I wanted the energy and excitement. I want to be on my feet, running stage left to stage right, and if it was safe, I want to be stage-diving."
Shimabukuro's wanderlust with his four-stringed instrument hasn't gone unnoticed. He's toured with Jimmy Buffet and Bette Midler and met the Queen of England, and his emotive cover songs prompted that other high-profile partisan of the almighty uke, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, to tell Rolling Stone, "Jake is taking the instrument to a place that I can't see anybody else catching up with him."
Then, there was the time he punched out a quasi-symphonic cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody" during a 2010 TED talk, stamping the operatic Queen song with a crash of frenetic strumming and rhythmic fretboard-tapping, which he says was done all in service of "experimenting with the ukulele." And, well, because he could.
"There's one thing to make a song recognizable, by playing the melody and some of the chords," Shimabukuro says. "But to actually capture the soul of the song, with Freddie Mercury's conviction — that's the hard part. That's what will drive you crazy. I locked myself in my room for months until I got 'Bohemian Rhapsody' right. I perform it at every show, but I have to take a deep breath beforehand."
Play the video above to hear Shimabukuro play a 45-second excerpt of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2
Where: Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
Contact: 561-832-7469 or Kravis.org
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