Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s feature, we’re giving the low-down on a newly reissued gem of Japanese deep jazz – Yoshimi Ueno’s ‘Taiko No Unimari’.
As part of an ongoing series of reissues from Japan’s cult Johnny’s Disk label, Studio Mule have just rereleased the sole album by Japanese drummer Yoshimi Ueno. Incredibly rare as an original pressing, 1980’s ‘Taiko No Unimari’ features a set of six absolutely inspired pieces from a quintet of musicians, at times augmented by a couple of guest players. The album runs the gauntlet from passionate post-bop and modal improvisation to dissonant avant-jazz pieces but, no matter what the group tackle, a sense of style and substance is found throughout. This is a really impressive outing, even by the high standards of the Japanese jazz scene at the time, and the addition of energetic electric guitar (occasionally complemented by some choice acoustic flourishes) alongside throbbing tenor sax and intricate piano makes for a textural and engaging listening experience. Ueno’s drumming is impressive throughout, and this entirely original set of compositions is both unique and remarkably inspired.
Over the course of the last half-year or so, Studio Mule have proven themselves highly adept at reissuing rare and wonderful Japanese jazz. Not only have their choices been reliably excellent but pressing quality has also proven consistently high quality. This latest release is no exception; pressed in Europe, playback is very clean across both sides on our copy with practically perfect playback throughout the whole album. The record sits flat on the platter when spinning and surfaces are clean, with visual inspection revealing a strong sheen free of marks from handling at the factory. Sonically, this is a really impressive reissue. It’s unclear if this is remastered or not, but either way it rings clear as a bell. The drums rumble like thunder when appropriate and chime like wind when not; the clarity in the guitar parts is thoroughly impressive and the sax has a bite to it that befits the instrument but never becomes harsh. The bass is likewise impressive and manages to remain within its own space at all times, never bleeding out into the overall soundscape or starting to boom.
This is a solidly presented release, although perhaps not extravagantly packaged. The sleeve is a fairly standard non-gatefold affair, faithfully replicating that of the original issue in nearly every way. The cardstock used is roughly midweight; it’s not terribly hefty, but it does the job fine. Apart from mention of the reissue label, distributor and a barcode printed on the back cover, the sleeve remains unerringly faithful to the original pressing. Spine text is in Kanji and bares no English translation, unlike the majority of recent Japanese reissues for the Western market. We’re in favour of this ourselves – some may baulk, but in this way it remains respectful and honest to the original release. Image quality is decent throughout; the front cover is not super sharp but it looks fine and the colours are nice. Back cover print quality is similar, if not slightly better. One minor complaint is the tight-fitting non-polylined paper sleeve that the record comes in. It’s completely generic and sticks to the record in such a way that removal of the vinyl inside becomes a risky procedure if not done with due care. We’d advise swapping this one out for a polylined or MOFI inner sleeve as soon as possible. The labels are really great here; they’re high quality replicas of the original Johnny’s Disk labels found on the first pressing. Faithful replicas of original label designs have become increasingly common over the last few years in reissue circles but few manage to replicate their source material with complete accuracy. Impressively, this reissue does just that: there’re no alterations whatsoever on these labels – not even an updated copyright date. That’s a rarity on any reissue and definitely worthy of kudos.
This is a really great reissue from Studio Mule. Sound quality is very impressive, as is playback. Presentation is solid as well, making this a rerelease that is very easy to recommend – especially considering that this is the first time the album has ever been reissued on vinyl. With the original practically impossible to find, this offers a great alternative and a wonderful listening experience.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at email@example.com – it would be great to hear from you!