Square Enix Jazz Vol.2
Square Enix Jazz Vol.2
|Record Label: Square Enix Music|
|Catalog No.: SQEX-10699|
|Release Date: December 19, 2018|
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The Square Enix Jazz series began with a twelve-track set of stylish tributes to Final Fantasy. The publisher could have returned for seconds in Square Enix Jazz Vol.2 – there’s always more ground to cover where Final Fantasy classics are concerned. Instead, Square Enix cast aside the Final Fantasy focus, turning its sights to titles ranging from Legend of Mana to Chrono Trigger. Broader in scope though it may be, does this second VGM jazz compilation fare as sweet as the first?
Square Enix Jazz Vol.2 sticks close to the last volume’s musical direction. Maybe a little too close, in fact. Most arrangements feature the same instrumental and compositional limitations its predecessor, to the point that the two albums feel almost identical at times. The Square Enix Jazz series may be two volumes young, but the third might find itself wrestling with listener fatigue when it arrives. Still, if the sound of Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy- struck your fancy in 2017, you’re in luck: Vol.2 is yet another collection of quality jazz covers.
The Legend Begins”, from the Final Fantasy Legend trilogy, makes the return to form clear from the start. Glistening piano rolls, soft hi hat patters and warm brass clear the way the original melody on electric guitar. Then the track trades its tranquility for a funky beat and bass line, alongside explorative departures from the source material on guitar and brass. As far as sound, style and quality go, Square Enix Jazz Vol.2 is a perfect match for its predecessor.
Well, with one unfortunate exception. Typically, tributes to Final Fantasy VI’s “Dancing Mad” make for the crowning achievement of their respective albums or concert set lists. Here, not so much. The rollicking drums start off promising enough, but a clashing guitar part detracts from the iconic melody on brass, and the call and response between sax and trombone that follows feels a bit directionless. Assigning the original track’s chaotic ostinato to piano proves wise, but the lo-fi recording quality on the piano’s initial pass – while intentional – sounds distracting. The arrangement has its moments – most notably a pretty piano solo and occasional showcases of virtuosic sax and flute technique. On the whole, however, this Square Enix Jazz tribute misses the point: it’s calamitous, sure, but not quite compelling.
The entire rest of the album is redemptive. Breaking the Final Fantasy mold at last, Vol.2 turns next to “Song of the Ancients” the cult-classic NieR. Who knew such a depressing soundtrack could translate so well to smooth jazz? Yet the conversion succeeds, defined by a sax-trombone duet that does justice to Emi Evans’ dual performances on the original track.
Square Enix Jazz Vol.2 celebrates titles from all across the publisher’s esteemed history. Legend of Mana enjoys a satisfying new take on its main theme, conjuring alluring textures and enticing piano lines that would please even the game music funk god Shoji Meguro himself. “Encounter with the Seven Heroes” re-calibrates a Romancing Sa*Ga 2’s battle theme in swing time and festive fashion, albeit with a longwinded intro. NeiR: Automata’s “City Ruins” gets a contemplative jazz trio treatment with nods to the original’s tearful piano part. Chrono Trigger pops up twice: first in a tribute to “Wind Scene” that shifts from mellow to lively and back again, and then in a playful take on its main theme. Even “Swivel” from the previously Japan-only Seiken Densetsu 3 (aka Trials of Mana) makes an appearance, bringing with it a refreshing violin performance and a feisty folk-tinged flavor.
Yet Vol.2 doesn’t forget to cater to Final Fantasy fans. The original Final Fantasy battle theme returns in funk-rock form, with heavy reliance on dissonant electric guitar strums and a bass solo. Final Fantasy XII’s “Flash of Steel” condenses its multi-faceted and cinematic source material into something more focused and uniform. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XV’s “Apocalypse Noctis” does away with the original’s rousing chord progressions, sticking close to the root of its minor key; but given the original version’s undeniable similarities to the Elder Scrolls theme, perhaps this was a change for the better.
Square Enix Jazz Vol.2 takes its predecessor’s formula and runs wild with it. Where the last entry dealt exclusively in Final Fantasy’s greatest hits, Vol.2 finds its way to the less acclaimed corners of Square Enix’s game catalogue. Though this second volume may stumble in some places and sound overly familiar in others, it nevertheless proves that the Square Enix Jazz format continues to work, and that it can work with just about any title in the publisher’s extensive library.
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Posted on June 14, 2019 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on June 14, 2019.