Square Enix Jazz – Final Fantasy VII-
Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy VII-
Square Enix Music
January 22, 2020
Buy at CDJapan
Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy VII- is the third in a new series of jazz arrangement albums by Square Enix, released just ahead of a set of concerts focused on the same material. As before, arrangements are handled by Eijiro Nakagawa and Ryu Kawamura, utilizing much of the same core ensemble that they had for the previous album. But this time around, the album focuses on just one soundtrack, Nobuo Uematsu’s iconic Final Fantasy VII score. Thankfully, the duo know by now how to make tracks feel fresh, crafting wonderful arrangements full of improvisation and variation that are a large step above the usual remix fare, so that any fan of the original, even those who might feel tired of it after twenty years, should find a lot to like here.
“Opening – Bombing Mission” arranged by Eijiro Nakagawa starts out rather sedately with familiar notes, though with a lighter atmosphere than its original. The whole ensemble joins in once the action starts, letting loose perhaps a bit too much; the track quickly becomes unrecognizable through all of the free improvisation, with very little familiar material grounding it. The track goes on this way for quite some time, and I would have preferred that there have been a greater ratio of recognizable passages, even though the performances are just fine in themselves. Nakagawa also covers the other battle themes of the album, but more successfully. “Fight On!” keeps the melodies of the original at the forefront, playing instead with the transitions between sections and underlying harmonies. Like the first track it gets quite busy, but its firmer grounding makes these sections more enjoyable. His “JENOVA” arrangement is one of the album highlights for me, because of the way it very successfully reharmonizes the intense original to a wistful and laidback track. I never thought I would describe the “JENOVA” melody as pretty and hummable, but here we are. The last of these tracks is “One-Winged Angel” which plays up the rock elements. It changes the rhythms of the original a lot, so that it took me a while to identify where the “Sephiroth!” chorus was, but I was delighted when I did. It does a good job of having fun with the original without sounding too goofy; it’s a sort of devious fun that permeates the track.
Nakagawa also handles two other tracks for the album. The first of these is “Cosmo Canyon” which leans even more into the rock side of things, giving a good portion of the melody to the electric guitar. Paired with the unison trombone and sax segments, the song has a more anthemic feel, swaggering with confidence and pride. It’s a lot different from the more somber takes that the track often gets, but it works well for it. The album closer is Nakagawa’s take on the “Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII”, a wonderfully warm track with lovely trickling piano lines, smooth electric guitar, great transitional reharmonizations, and a gentle groove. The track only focuses on the first half of the original, but this is just fine since there is more than enough material here for it, and the track stays unified this way.
The rest of the album is handled by Ryu Kawamura. He has perhaps the most interesting arrangements of the album, made from deeper cuts of the original soundtrack. These begin with “Shinra Inc.”, which transforms the oppressive original into an evening lounge track that has a strong sense of mystery. He essentially crafts a new track by creating motifs out of the original, and then mixes them with new ideas, namely the new bass line, giving the track a strong sense of identity. It’s one of my favourites of the album, even though the original barely registered for me. Similar in technique is “The Chase”, which more remarkably generates motifs from its intensely atmospheric original, and uses them to create something new. This track still sounds like it depicts an action scene, albeit one with style. The acoustic guitar and sax solos in particular are a great here. Then there is “Cait Sith’s Theme” which could have been a straightforward adaptation given the original’s jazz influence, but Kawamura still takes his time to fully rearrange the track, changing the rhythms and harmonies to give the track a whole new feel. The strong spacious beat and the electric piano set this track apart from the rest, injecting the piece with playful character. Where the original got a bit tiresome quickly, this one effortlessly glides along.
Kawamura also handles the more recognizable lyrical themes of the album, which are all more laid back. The first of these is “Aerith’s Theme”, which is filled with plenty of soul without being too sentimental. The improvisations here are quite lovely, and I love some of the rhythmic switch-ups of the melody. Moving the melody between octaves is also a great touch, highlighting the different timbres of the brass and wind instruments. Following this is “On Our Way”, an album highlight for me because of how well it handles the melody. There is less free improvisation here than on the rest of the album, but each instrument gets its time of spotlight to interpret the already excellent main melody, from the tipsy trombone to the elegant piano. It very much feels like a theme for a group of friends hanging out and relaxing after a long day. The last track here is “Tifa’s Theme”, whose melody structure is perfect for improv fitted between its spaced-out figures. This track is more heavy in improvisation, but I feel like it would have benefitted from being more pared down and having a different emotional register from the rest of the album, since it gets a bit lost in the mix. But as it is, the track is still solid, and is on the same level as other tracks from the album.
Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy VII- is another great entry in the jazz series, bringing us more high-level arrangements and professional performances to a beloved soundtrack. Some of the tracks are very creative with their interpretations, especially since few of the originals have much jazz influence, although a couple arrangements end up a bit too far removed in the improvising. Being the third album, perhaps a bit more stylistic variation would have been nice, since the arrangements still mostly use the same instruments and styles. For example, it would have been great to have a couple of tracks with smaller groups like a sax/piano duo, for both sonic and emotional variation. But the album remains a delightful listen that should be easy to enjoy for both fans of the original soundtrack and fans of jazz alike.
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Posted on February 24, 2020 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on February 24, 2020.