Square Enix Music
May 28, 2014
Buy at CDJapan
SQ SWING is another album in Square Enix’s SQ series, featuring remixes from various Square Enix games by a number of different artists. This album goes largely for a more acoustic and jazzy approach to its remixes, although barely any of the tracks can actually be classified as “swing” music. There are also three recycled tracks on the album that appear from other SQ albums. As usual, it is a mixed bag of music, but there is certainly enjoyable material to be found.
The album starts with the “Memory of 16bit Medley”, covering many games and well-known tracks like “Rebel Army” from Final Fantasy II and “Frog’s Theme” from Chrono Trigger. However, the track merely consists of the melodies whistled to a finger-snapped beat. It’s not bad by any means, but the novelty wears off quickly and it seems excessively long on an album that is lacking in terms of new material. The ending song “The Gentle Breeze Sings” is also whistled (both tracks done by Taro Kuchibue), with nothing else to it.
The most prominent sound on the album comes from a few small jazz ensembles. The Kingdom Hearts II medley is an excellent one of these, performed by fox capture plan. The first half focuses on the moody Organization themes, which actually work wonderfully in the style, being upbeat with the quick percussion, and epic with some help from strings. At first they just manage to fit in a few jazz chords on the piano, but then there is some all out improvisation that works very well in the setting. It also works well as it moves to a more sombre “Dearly Beloved”, ending in a rousing rendition of the iconic theme. The first medley from Chrono Trigger by bohemianvoodoo is similar, this time adding in guitar to the mix. The highlight from the medley is the touching “Yearnings of the Wind”, which begins beautifully and emotionally with just the piano and guitar, thought the rest of medley is quite good as well. The RF team do four of the remixes on the album, including the Final Fantasy VI medley and “Fight! Alkaiser” from SaGa Frontier. They are similarly capable in arranging and performing, and I appreciate the choice of lesser themes from VI for their focus. It’s a bit moodier of a medley, and it interestingly goes free-form near the end of the song. I’m not entirely sure that it was an appropriate choice for the material and may divide some listeners, but it is at least interesting.
The recycled tracks from previous albums also follow a similar sound. KING COLUMBIA’s “Johnny C Bad” from Cafe SQ is actually the only track that falls neatly into the “swing” genre, rather than just being jazz (which was expected, given the original). It’s a fun rendition, but it’s not a particularly special track in terms of composition or arrangement. Rare SQ’s arrangement of “MEGALOMANIA” from Live A Live is another track performed by RF, who again does a wonderful job with their little ensemble, this time has focus on the guitar which does a great job taking the lead and injecting the track with quick-strumming energy. More SQ’s arrangement of “Melodies of Life” from Final Fantasy IX by the Yusuke Hirado Trio has soft vocals from Miyuki Hatakeyama. It’s one of the jazziest on the album in terms of harmonizations, making up for Uematsu’s fairly basic original. It has a great groove, and is one of my favourite versions of the track.
The remaining tracks break the predominant sound of the with other influences. The last arrangement by RF, the Final Fantasy IV medley, is very minimal, with the spotlight on guitar and double bass, with only some light percussion. It’s a very calming and beautiful arrangement, and the translation of “Illusionary World” into this sort of arrangement is great. It becomes a bit more upbeat and jazzy towards the end with some improv, but for the most part it retains its charming simplicity. The folksy “The Child of the Fairy Tribe” from Secret of Mana features a circle of strings, plucked and bowed from the Draksip ensemble. It’s pleasant enough and has some nice counterpoint moments, but it meanders and doesn’t go anywhere. The ensemble’s other arrangement, “Corridors of Time ~ Schala’s Theme” from Chrono Trigger is much better and even magical, with more going on from percussion and guitar here, having a mystical atmosphere throughout that is enchanting and gorgeous. It all comes together with some great, moving performances from the strings and guitar, and although it doesn’t really seem to fit in with the other tracks stylistically, it is still easily an album highlight.
SQ SWING is another solid but inconsistent entry in Square Enix’s SQ series, with its fair share of great moments. Most of the tracks by small jazz ensembles are quite enjoyable and have great improv moments or development on the original themes, while there are others that are outliers in sound but are still very pleasant. However, with three recycled tracks and the rather pointless opening an closing whistled tracks, the album might not be worth it for some. Almost none of it is swing music, but it’s a nice mostly-acoustic album that is easy to listen to with some beloved video game melodies.
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Posted on December 30, 2015 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on December 30, 2015.