Sega Sound Team [H.] 1st Album
Sega Sound Team [H.] 1st Album
December 21, 2011
Buy at Ebten
In the last ten years, Sega’s in-house band [H.] have delighted listeners with their gigs at various events and guest arrangements on numerous albums. The band are most famous for preserving the jazz fusion sound of the S.S.T. Band and even feature two of its members, Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi. But in recent years, they have also experimented in other styles and have extensively incorporated vocal performances into their live sets. Despite their long tenure, the band didn’t release their own album until 2011. The members compiled 18 performances — a mixture of old and new, instrumental and vocal — from their extensive library. But despite enormous potential, the resultant album disappoints somewhat. Above all, it’s clear that [H.] are primarily a live band and they struggle somewhat in their studio debut.
The introduction of the album features a frenzied series of Japanese voice-overs suitable for [H.]’s preferred platform: the live arena. Right away, the band expose their core sound with a reprise of their performance of “After Burner”. The arranger Hiroshi Kawaguchi (Hiro) — as the composer of the original piece — unsurprisingly stays true to its jazz fusion stylings. However, the robust performance of a full band ensures that the piece sounds more energetic than ever. The keyboard and guitar leads particularly out the gliding nature of the melodies, while the solos bring some welcome variety. [H.] assert their core sound further with his jam-packed medley dedicated to another arcade classic, Quartet, previously included on the title’s album release. Arranger Mitsuharu Fukuyama enhances the nostalgic vibe of all the riffs and melodies here, while emphasising the underlying funk influence of the original tracks.
Indeed, while largely a jazz fusion band, [H.] are able to adapt their sound to match the tone of a range of titles. For example, the light-hearted pop flavour of the Virtual-On is preserved with their take on the series’ iconic anthem, “In the Blue Sky”. Keitaro Hanada captures all the flair of the original melody with his exuberant guitar performance, while all the power chords add to that punchy anime flavour. Even more impressive is the 12 minute medley dedicated to Fantasy Zone, the centrepiece of the album. Right away, Hiro captures the samba feel of the original score by presenting the bouncy melody from “Opa-Opa” with band performances, trumpet improvisations, and maraca beats. Plenty of favourites from the score are incorporated along the way in a bold but cohesive manner. A particular highlight is the rhythmically compelling performance of “Keep in the Beat”, while the vocal rendition of “YA-DA-YO!” just prior to the climax is hilarious.
While the vocals on Fantasy Zone are a brief distraction, they take a much more dominant role elsewhere in the album. A few tracks feature vocals from [H.]’s frontman Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, known for his performances on a range of releases including From Loud 2 Low Too. For example, his soothing vocals work well against jazz-tinged piano backing on OutRun‘s “Last Wave”, while his extravagant side comes out in his performances of the anime classic “Love Is Not Enough” at the close of the album. Not all will enjoy such performances, but their inclusion on this album is likely to delight the artist’s fanbase. Less accessible are the performances featuring silly group performances, notably Vermilion‘s marching song and Touch de Zuno! DS. The latter will especially irritate Western listeners with its piercing screams from a group of fangirls. While such tracks were well-received on the live stage, they are likely to alienate on the studio release.
The track listings on [H.]’s first album leave quite a bit to be desired. With plenty of studio and live performances to choose from, they strayed away from their core sound in favour of novelty tracks. It is baffling that tracks from the obscurities Network Taisen Quiz Answer x Answer and Sega Moba — both complete with hyperactive vocals — were chosen above rock fusion arrangements from Virtua Fighter, Sega Rally, or Hang-On. Fans of the Virtual-On series will appreciate the exclusive recordings of “Primitive Jam” and “515 Hours” — the latter in particular filled with light 80s rock vibes — but the series didn’t deserve three-fold coverage. The decision to incorporate a track from a more recent Sega favourite, Yakuza 2, was an inspired one. But once again, [H.] shift from their core rock sound in favour of a vocal ballad influenced by samurai animes. It’s good to see the band experimenting with new styles, but it’s a pity that they neglect their roots along the way.
Evidently, [H.] have changed quite a bit in the ten years since making their debut. While they are still capable of producing jazz fusion arrangements dedicated to Sega’s classics, some of their biggest fan-pleasers are light-hearted vocal performances. But by blending their different sounds into a single compilation album, the band end up producing a muddled rather than fruitful final product. [H.] might be fine arrangers and performers, but they clearly struggle as album producers. Yet while the album forms a disappointing whole, most listeners will find they have affinity for at least a few tracks here: whether the rock-based instrumental arrangements, Mitsuyoshi’s charismatic vocal performances, or even the wild sing-alongs. It’s cautiously recommended, particularly for those with some affinity to the vocals.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.