Hang on to Your Hat
Hang on to Your Hat
|Record Label: Materia Collective|
|Catalog No.: MCOL-0256-CD|
|Release Date: May 8, 2020|
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Remember New Donk City? You know, Super Mario Odyssey’s sprawling metropolitan sandbox with a pitch-perfect big band sound? A close friend once mused that Super Mario soundtracks lend themselves especially well to lively ensemble performances. It’s been hard to come up with a better endorsement for the point (save for 2003’s Mario & Zelda Big Band Live album).
…Until now. Courtesy of Materia Collective and the Video Game Jazz Orchestra, Hang on to Your Hat is the cover album you would get if Mayor Pauline and her fellow players decided to rescore a handful of Super Mario 64’s standards. The compositions themselves have stood the test of time on their own, but they benefit from Hang on to Your Hat’s spirited brass-centric arrangements.
Hang on to Your Hat’s titular opening track pays homage to Super Mario 64’s winged cap jingle (or the invincibility jingle in most other Mario titles). Quick and fleeting in its original context, the Video Game Jazz Orchestra fashions the tune into a four-and-a-half minute joyride, keeping the brisk pace of original but fleshing out the chord progression with unique embellishments. The ensemble’s balance is impeccable, and the arrangement makes dynamic use of its players, trading between flashes of boisterous brass and softer moments in which wily sax solos get their time to shine.
Like any great tribute album, Hang on to Your Hat goes above and beyond paying its respects to the source material, employing numerous tricks to elevate and evolve that material. The rearranged “File Select” plays out in a far more upbeat manner than the original, accentuating the syncopation of the melody and occasionally cutting the ends of melodic phrases short in dramatic fashion. “Inside the Castle Walls” starts with a nod to Princess Peach’s theme, and then swings along at a lumbering pace (save for an enthusiastic take on the original’s bridge). “Stage Boss” blows the original straight out of the water: the slightly reduced tempo does wonders to bring out the clarity of the chromatic runs, and the vibraphone lends the track a playful character where the original just felt ominous.
Most importantly, Hang on to Your Hat nails the track that demands the best carpentry. Super Mario 64’s evergreen crowdpleaser, “Bob – Omb Battlefield”, has seldom sounded better – especially with the carefree melodica solos tossed into the mix.
At times, the passion behind this project also pays off in unexpected ways. Super Mario 64’s Jolly Roger Bay and Dire Dire Docks stages originally shared one track between the two of them: a deep, soothing tune, occasionally accompanied by an invigorating beat. Yet Hang On To Your Hat honors each stage with its own separate arrangement. The “Dire Dire Docks” take is the quicker paced of the two. It retrofits the bridge with a mesmerizing knot woven from the fabric of the tune’s main melodic motif, and later stuns the senses with a desolate instance of warbling, decaying guitar strums. The “Jolly Roger Bay” version, by contrast, sails smooth and slow, with a delicate electric guitar solo that absolutely shimmers. The theme of Bowser’s stages gets two bites at the apple as well: “Bowser in the Dark World” trots along with a swing in its step and deep, rumbling percussion, whereas “Koopa’s Road” shifts its rhythms between simple and compound meter and highlights the source material’s inspirational qualities.
Speaking of the reptilian devil, Bowser’s two tracks at the tail end of Hang on to Your Hat steal the show. “Koopa Battle” comes across like a sinister stroll, while “Ultimate Koopa” takes on a smokey lounge aesthetic. With extended technique – sizzling mutes here, a guttural deflation effect of sorts there – and dynamic shifts in tempo and meter, these tracks suit King Koopa perfectly, and sell the listener on the endless swagger of Mario’s gargantuan nemesis.
Super Mario 64 diehards may miss tracks like “Slide” and “Piranha Plant Lullaby” which didn’t make the cut. Even so, Hang On To Your Hat is solid as it stands, with eleven inventive arrangements and a sound as golden as its cover art. It’s a fitting tribute to Super Mario 64, and a welcomed addition to the growing catalog of big band Mario music.
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Posted on June 8, 2020 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on June 8, 2020.
Wonderful review, and great recommendation – wouldn’t have known this fantastic album existed otherwise.