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Yuko Maruyama: In Tone Nation

Clever CD title-for a singer. But the stunning Yuko Maruyama is a not vocalist but a pianist, composer and arranger equally at home in the milieu of jazz and classical. Tokyo-born, San Diego-based, Maruyama has scored TV documentaries and earned her master’s at the University of Southern California. Blessed with perfect pitch, she has enough technique and harmonic inventiveness to be a hard swinger, but for this debut album-a vehicle to launch the Shigeru Kawai grand piano-she has gone the smooth-jazz route, backed by bassist Dan Lutz, drummer Aaron Serfaty, the very discreet percussionist Cassio Duarte and, on two tracks, altoist Andy Suzuki, who plays in the key of Kenny G.

Kawai pianos have been around since 1927, but the Shigeru is an audiophile’s dream, using soundboards made from aged, rare Ezo spruce cultivated in Japan. The sound is gorgeous, and its warmth is captured by engineer Geoff Gillette’s use of four mikes: two inside, two just outside the lid.

All nine tracks are originals arranged by Maruyama. They’re delicate, spun of fine silk, often introspective, seldom exciting. Most of the latter stem from Maruyama’s Latin excursions, “Oscar’s Journey,” “Shelly’s Dance,” “The Uptown Express” and, particularly, “In Two,” in which she interrupts Suzuki’s soliloquy with a wake-up montuno.

Maruyama is a fine pianist; she deserves a straightahead backing.

Originally Published