As well as being a fan of the ukulele (well, duh!) one of my other musical passions is jazz in all its forms. I was therefore delighted to be sent a CD to sample by a chap called Paul Hemmings from New York. Paul is a jazz guitarist by training but became hooked on the ukulele after a trip to Hawaii. He has since brought together some friends and colleagues to create The Uketet playing jazz gigs around New York with Paul on Uke, Gaku Takanashi on bass and Mike Campenni on drums. I've gotten hold of their debut CD, called "Introducing.... The Paul Hemmings Uketet", and think its a rather nice CD!
This is a 13 track set in traditional jazz album style in terms of its content. We have original jazz numbers composed by Paul himself, some jazz standards, and some jazz treatment of more contemporary tunes.
The sounds throughout are very laid back easy listening with minimal backing that allows the uke to shine (with the exception of some extra percussion on one or two numbers) and that is the first thing that struck me - the way Pauls uke playing shines. This is no random fingerpicker, but clearly the talents of somebody who is dedicated to both jazz and the stringed instrument world. The sounds are clean, precise warm and very pleasing.
CD opener, Hemmings original Blue Uke is a really cheery uplifting jazz number with a feel to the uke chords that pierce the passages giving the uke an almost piano like quality with very bluesy accents throughout.
Then past a delicate Lennon /McCartney number given a latin makeover (If I Fell) to funky jazz in the form of The Chicken.
After some more covers another delightful Hemmings creation in Papakea with a decidedly swing feel and wonderful bass solo.
Highlights of the jazz covers for me include One Note Samba and one of my favourite jazz standards in Monks 'Round Midnight, the latter carried off with a particularly smoky aplomb.
Towards the end, Paul nods his cap to the place he discovered the uke in Honolulu Hula Girl before ending with the third Hemmings original, the sublimely titled Hymn For A Red Slippered Angel. This track lulled me in the first half as being a late night easy listening favourite before waking me with a jolt with a really rather nice driving strummed melody.
All in all there is no arguing with the talent on display on this, and it certainly is a CD of feel good music. I know I know, not everybody likes jazz (though I can't see why, as its all around an awful lot of music) but this is not far out there modern jazz, more a respectful take on the more laid back traditional sounds of the masters which is really hard to dislike. If I have any gripes its that I'd like to hear more of the compositions of Hemmings himself as they really are very pretty. I have no issue with the covers of the jazz numbers, and I know that its part of the jazz tradition for players to give jazz interpretations of pop tunes, but we have three Beatles numbers on here out of 13 tracks and can't help thinking that another original could have eased out one of the Harrison numbers.
But thats a minor gripe about a very nice album which comes highly recommended from this ukulele fan.
You can read more about The Uketet on the link in the first paragraph, and he also has a Kickstarter project to help this get off the ground. Whichever way though, I'd suggest you hunt this down.
1 Blue Uke - Paul Hemmings
2 If I Fell - Lennon / McCartney
3 The Chicken - Pee Wee Ellis
4 Tico Tico - Zequinha de Abreu
5 Something - George Harrison
6 No Woman No Cry - Bob Marley
7 Papakea - Paul Hemmings
8 Here Comes The Sun - George Harrison
9 'Round Midnight - Thelonious Monk
10 One Note Samba - Antonio Carlos Jobim
11 Take The "A" Train - Billy Strayhorn
12 Honolulu Hula Girl - Sonny Cunha
13 Hymn For A Red Slippered Girl - Paul Hemmings
HIGHLIGHTS FOR ME
If I Fell
Hymn For A Red Slippered Girl