Michael Powers is a well-known contemporary jazz artist in the Pacific Northwest, where he frequently performs at festivals and clubs. But Powers, who has recorded more than 10 CDs of jazz and blues music on his guitar, has a new instrument: the ukulele. He turned to the tiny four-stringed ax after playing in 2006 with uke icon Jake Shimabukuro.
The ukulele has certainly experienced a bump in popularity as of late, with countless reports on its upsurge among all demographics—especially the young, who have made it cool again. Of course, many new players, young and old alike, are content to strum a few chords. As a professional musician, Powers’ experience on guitar makes him a natural. He plays the uke as a lead instrument, and sounds as if he’s been at it his whole life.
The hefty 18-track Urban Ukulele offers original, easygoing island tunes with titles like “Dance With the Sun,” “Black Beans and Rice,” “Ala Moana,” “Pike Place Market” and “Chai Latte.” Powers brings out his electric guitar for the searing “Ukulele Shuffle” and a take on Carlos Santana’s “Smooth,” and interprets the standards “Smile,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Other engaging repertory choices include Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” Bach’s “Cello Prelude No. 1,” the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and a classical spin on “Time to Say Goodbye.”