04 September 2008

Ukulele Force Star Wars Best Covers - VA (2005)

Much of the charm in tribute productions is in the incongruity between the sound you associate with favorite songs and the sound delivered on the recording. And what could be more incongruous than playing the music for Star Wars - perhaps the most well known orchestral music of the 20th century, big, bold, and brash, with blaring trumpets, soaring strings and pounding percussion - on an instrument with a thin, delicate sound and associations with Polynesian culture?

Ukulele Force is a 2005 release from Japan's Geneon Entertainment, one of several in a series of ukulele tribute projects covering Ultraman, Gibli Studios, Elvis, The Beatles and Mozart. All but one of the seven featured artists are Japanese; perhaps the two best known being conductor, composer and arranger Akira Miyagawa, and ukulele/guitar player Kiyoshi Kobayashi, who contribute one track each. The lion's share of the music comes from Ukulele Cafe Quartet (3 tracks), a group that grew out of an early 90's amateur ukulele practice and performance club called Ukulele Afternoon, and Kuricorder Quartet (4 tracks), a group active since 1994 that has recorded its own projects as well as music for film and television.

On some songs the arrangements and instrumentation seem quite fitting, such as the Cantina Band song played hot swing gypsy style (think Django Reinhardt on ukulele); Leia's theme as a Hawaiian lullaby, with ukulele playing melody over guitar chords and harpsichord accents; or Across the Stars (the love theme from Attack of the Clones) as a ukulele duet given a slight Latin shading with castanets, and in the middle section a dreamy, theremin-like sounding pedal steel.

But then there are the jaw dropping, laugh-out-loud moments of incredulity, like the Tie Fighter Attack, with a thumping tuba and ukulele chorus playing the orchestral string sections while a ukulele plays the lead brass line. Or the Imperial March played on tuba and recorder, an amusing contrast in sound and tone that conjures up cartoon images of big and small, like Laurel and Hardy, or Yogi and Boo-Boo.

My congratulations go out to whomever it was that had the audacity to propose a ukulele Star Wars cover project and to Geneon for taking the risk. Most record companies would have probably turned it down. Don't make the mistake of writing this off a frivolous commercial project. Sure, Geneon is counting on Star Wars fans to cover their costs, but they've provided music fans with what has to be one of the most amusing tribute albums ever recorded.

Because Japan is still something of a closed market, particularly in media products, Ukulele Force is an expensive item, even purchased in Japan. Consumers would quite naturally like to hear some of the album before deciding to buy, but unfortunately the record company has been quite miserly in providing samples. Fortunately, I'm here to help you with a hefty medley of clips, which you can download here.


1. Twentieth Century Fox Trademark - Ukulele Cafe Quartet
2. Star Wars - Main Theme - Akira Miyagawa & the Galactic Ukulele Orchestra
3. Tales Of A Jedi Knight - Kuricorder
4. Mos Eisley Spaceport - James Hill
5. Princess Leia`s Theme - Kiyoshi Kobayashi & the Ukulele Swing Gang
6. Here They Come - Mikihiko Matsumiya
7. The Imperial March - Kuricorder
8. Han Solo And The Princess - Hajimeni Kyoshi
9. Yoda`s Theme - Kuricorder
10. Anakin`s Theme - Mikihiko Matsumiya
11. Love Theme From Attack Of The Clones - Ukulele Cafe Quartet
12. Augiez's Great Municipal Band - Ukulele Cafe Quartet
13. The Throne Room And The End Title - Kuricorder

Kuricorder (Chestnut Recorder) Quartet
3. Tales Of A Jedi Knight
7. The Imperial March
9. Yoda`s Theme
13. The Throne Room And The End Title

Ukulele Cafe Quartet
1. Twentieth Century Fox Trademark
11. Love Theme From Attack Of The Clones
12. Augiez`S Great Municipal Band

Mikihiko Matsumiya
6. Here They Come
10. Anakin`s Theme

Akira Miyagawa & the Galactic Ukulele Orchestra
2. Star Wars - Main Theme

Hajimeni Kyoshi
8. Han Solo And The Princess

Kiyoshi Kobayashi
5. Princess Leia`s Theme

James Hill
4. Mos Eisley Spaceport

Geneon Entertainment Ukulele Force page.