It’s not easy to stand out from the crowd in today’s eclectic live music circuit. Especially in Florida, where we’re regularly exposed to sounds and styles from around the world. But fans of exotica and South Seas island music are in for a treat this week when two unique concert tours make their way to the Sunshine State to put a modern spin on traditional styles.
Hawaii’s Jake Shimabukuro, a ukulele virtuoso and composer known for his fast and complex finger work, is in the midst of a seven-city Florida tour that began Wednesday (April 12) in Orlando and wraps up April 19 in Key West. Shimabukuro combines elements of jazz, blues, funk, rock, bluegrass, classical, folk, and flamenco into his flamboyant style.
Meanwhile, exotica qunitet Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica from Massachusetts is making a rare Florida appearance as part of a short four-date jaunt through the Southeast that also began Wednesday. The group performs a cinematic mashup of global jazz and classical adaptations with a South Pacific flair, also touching on the sounds of Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Latin America.
These wonderfully diverse tours nearly collide on Sunday, April 16, when Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica performs in West Palm Beach at 3 p.m., and Jake Shimabukuro hits the stage in Fort Lauderdale around 7 p.m. Luckily for hardcore fans, you can enjoy the afternoon performance at the Norton Museum of Art and still have plenty of time to head south for the evening concert at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The 46-year-old Shimabukuro, often referred to as “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele,” has taken the humble instrument to new heights over his two-decade career. He broke through first in Hawaii and Japan in the early 2000s, then he became an international sensation in 2006 when a clip of him playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps became one of YouTube’s first viral videos.
He unleashes a big sound on the tiny four-string instrument, playing a genre-bending assortment of pop songs, American Songbook standards and his own originals. His fame has taken him from the smallest venues to some of the most prestigious in the world, including the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center, and the Sydney Opera House.
Shimabukuro is also a prolific recording artist with more than 20 albums to his credit. His latest release, Jake & Friends (2021), includes a roster of guest stars that includes Jimmy Buffett, Amy Grant, Kenny Loggins, Ziggy Marley, Michael McDonald, Bette Midler, Jesse Colin Young, Vince Gill, and Willie Nelson. On the current tour, he’s joined by bassist Jackson Waldhoff.
Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica is the brainchild of Brian O’Neill, a percussionist who leads a team of five musicians on instruments including vibraphone, flute, bass, oud, and guitar. The world’s only global jazz and exotic chamber music quintet plays original music written by O’Neill specifically for the group’s unique instrumentation.
The musicians also perform offbeat arrangements of Bach, Gershwin, Shostakovich, and John Adams, veering away from true 1950s exotica, but leaning heavily into the genre’s sense of escapism. Onstage, expect the quintet to embrace the jazz aesthetic and engage in some passionate improvisation.
The quintet has two self-released albums – Where Here Meets There (2013) and Third River Rangoon (2011). Also available in the online store is The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel (2010) by the “megaband” incarnation of Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica that plays the mid-century space-age instrumental lounge music of the late Mexican pianist.
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