In a TAS review of the first Yarlung album by jazz pianist Yuko Mabuchi, Jeff Wilson compared the audiophile recording to a coming-out party due to the wide range of music on that release. Her performance on January 25 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, California could be seen as another type of coming- out party. Opening for Branford Marsalis, Mabuchi was, for many people in the audience, making a completely new introduction—and this in an 1800-seat hall.
Daunting, perhaps, but the odds were in her favor. A lovely-sounding Hamburg Steinway grand piano didn’t hurt, and the trio was performing in a picturesque and sonically impressive space. Bassist Del Atkins and drummer Bobby Breton had already proved their mettle on the studio album.
Still, this was a big step.
Yuko opened the performance with a solo piano medley that started with “Softly as In A Morning Sunrise,” followed by a lyrical “Prelude to A Kiss,” and ended with a swinging version of “I’ve Got Rhythm” that incorporated elements of ragtime and stride piano.
Then came an inventive reharmonization of the Miles Davis classic “So What,” delivered with a solid Latin feel. Del Atkins then improvised on James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before the trio segued into a spirited rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.”
Yuko closed the set with a vibrant performance of the Brazilian composition “Batucada,” by Marcos Valle. The trio’s performance ended with a standing ovation. That’s rare for an opening act—and suggests that Mabuchi and her trio are primed to take their music to the next level.