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Yuko Mabuchi Trio (Live) Vol. 1 and 2 - Instant Classics!

06-17-2019 | By Michael Corsentino | Issue 104

Every once in while an artist comes along who rocks my musical apple cart, challenges my perceptions, and reignites my excitement about a given genre. Listening to the Yuko Mabuchi Trio (Live) Vol. 1 and 2 release had this effect on me. I love it when this happens, and I love sharing these newfound gems with my fellow music lovers. In this reviewer's humble opinion, our combined love of music is as much a journey of embracing old favorites as it is one of new discovery. I enjoy nothing more than dispelling the sad, but unfortunately popular myth among some audiophiles that there is no more good music, it's all been done, and done better decades ago. This couldn't be further from the truth! Every decade has its trash and its diamonds. Pick a genre, you may have stopped looking, but exciting things are happening there, if you seek them out. 

Yuko Mabuchi Trio, a recent jazz piano discovery, deserves a spot on your radar, and a place in your collection. In fact I consider Yuko Mabuchi Trio (Live) Vol. 1 & 2 instant classics. Like you, I own a lot of records, like many of you, a lot of them are jazz records. And like you, it takes a lot to break though the musical clutter of a large collection filled with a lifetime of favorites to achieve instant classic status, but that's exactly what happened listening to this 2 record live set. They're just that good! Simply said, they are tasty gems through and through, from the music, listed below, to the mastering and the pressings. If you love jazz piano, you really need to hear these. Don't take my word for it, I've included a video and link to the album for Tidal subscribers below, so you can hear Yuko for yourself. Naturally, as good as it sounds on your computer or streaming, the real sonic magic resides on the completely analog vinyl editions.

Tidal: Yuko Mabuchi Trio (Live)

From my elevator pitch reviewer's notes: "First impressions? Spectacular! Outstanding musicianship, outstanding recording, outstanding trio interplay. Yuko's piano playing is playful, authoritative, eclectic, highly skilled, clean, crisp, and unflinchingly tasteful. The rest of the trio is equally on point. Just lovely in every way! Mastered by Bernie Grundman, cut at 45RPM, pressed at Pallas, and available from Yarlung Records."

Mabuchi joins a storied list of venerated Japanese jazz musicians such as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ryo Fukui, Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, and more recently Hiromi Uehara to name a few. Whether its amazing players or records (think import Blue Note pressings and the famed Three Blind Mice record label), the Japanese have had a long love affair with jazz, contributing mightily to this uniquely American form of music, and we're all better off for it.

Aside from Eliane Elias, Marian McPartland, Diana Krall, Nina Simone, Norah Jones, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Hiromi... I don't own, follow, or know of many female jazz piano players. Especially those who are strictly piano players and not also singers. Call it personal bias, but my collection of jazz piano is almost entirely dominated by male musicians, many old, if not already long gone. So it's doubly exciting to see and hear a vibrant young female absolutely crush the idiom, and do it so tastefully. While some players like to dazzle you with their technical prowess, but leave you cold in the soul department, Yuko strikes the perfect balance between feeling and technique. Her playing is always supremely tasteful and musically generous with her exceptional trio mates Del Atkins on bass, and Bobby Breton on drums, allowing both to shine. She gets it just right, playing joyously from the heart without too many notes to become bombastic, or too few to become ponderous.

Mabuchi lists Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, and Monty Alexander as influences. Listening to her play, in addition to the above I also heard touches of Bill Evans and Latin flourishes that reminded me I need to pull out my Michel Camilo records. Although to compare Yuko to anyone else does a disservice to her unique and inestimable talents as a player and band leader. Comparisons are included solely to illustrate the musical influences and personal reference points I heard while listening to her. In other words if you like "X," you're going to love "Y, U, K, O."

Outstanding sonics by way of an all analog chain from recording to pressing make these records exceptionally quiet and transparent. So much so, in fact, that they reminded me of Three Blind Mice's "Midnight Sugar"—one of my holy grails when it comes  to transparency. Recorded by Bob Attiyeh & Arian Jansen using an AKG C-24 and two Schoeps M222 vacuum tube microphones from Ted Ancona, a 5ZERO7 from David Bock, and Elliot Midwood's vacuum tube microphone preamplification fed into a SonoruS ATR12 analog tape recorder using Sonorus Holographic Imaging technology. What does all that mean? Beautiful, crystal clear, transparent analog recording!

Yuko Mabuchi Trio Vol. 1 & 2 is a live concert recording spread across 2 LPs each cut at 45RPM and mastered at Pallas and RTI. The complete set, a beautiful mixture of standards, contemporary covers, and Yuko's composition "Sona's Song," is a must. Open reel fans can have the ultimate version on tape while the digital edition, recorded and masted separately, is available on a single CD, or as high res DSD files. Recognition also needs to be given to underwriters and executive producers Craig and Diane Martin (vinyl) and Randy Bellous (CD) without whom these recordings would not be possible. Available from Yarlung Records.

1. "What Is This Thing Called Love" - Cole Porter

2. "Valse Noire" - Mark Louis Lehman

3. "On Green Dolphin Street" - Bronisław Kaper

4. "Seriously" - Sara Bareilles

5. "Medley: All The Things You Are, Take The "A" Train, Satin Doll" - Jerome Kern, Billy Strayhorn, Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington

6. "Japanese Medley: Hazy Moon, Cherry Blossom, Look At The Sky" - Teiichi Okano, Anonymous, Hachidai Nakamura

7. "Sona's Song" - Yuko Mabuchi

8. "St. Thomas" - Sonny Rollins