A little over six months ago, I got the chance to listen to and review Platina Jazz Vol. 1, an album consisting of – you guessed it! – jazzed up arrangements of popular anime themes. Listening to it proved to be a pleasant ear-opener, especially given how most anime theme arrangements tend to fall towards electronica or rock, making Platina Jazz a very nice change of pace!
Rasmus Faber is still involved with anime music arrangements, having recently contributed a track to enigmaticLIA4 (doing an arrangement of “My Soul, Your Beats”) as well as finishing up the second volume of Platina Jazz and releasing it last November. We managed to get some time out of his busy schedule to ask him a few questions about Platina Jazz as well as his thoughts on Japanese music, so check out his responses after the jump!
Q: Can you go a bit into your musical background and how your career went from being a session musician to becoming a house producer all the way to the point where (I presume) you caught someone at JVC’s attention, at least enough to have Yuzuru Sato and Hirofumi Iwanaga approach you with an idea for the project that would become Platina Jazz?
A: I’ve been playing piano since I was very young, and started working as a session and tour musician around when I was 19-20. Spent a couple of years doing that, and during those years I did some session work for other house music producers and sort of caught onto the production thing (having dabbled with it a bit from a pretty young age as well). Then started producing lots of house music, which also lead to DJing.
Hirofumi Iwanaga picked up on my songs back in 2005, which lead to a couple of quite succesful album releases in Japan, and me starting to tour there frequently, about 2 months every year. Hirofumi and I realized we shared quite a lot musically, among other things a big admiration for composers Yoko Kanno, Joe Hisaishi and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
My having a jazz background as a pianist lead to us discussing an album project with these composers, and talking about it back and forth we came up with the idea for the Platina Jazz project. I knew there was great potential, because there were so many good songs, and Sweden has a lot of great jazz musicians, so it felt like a great project from the start.
Yuzuru Sato was a good friend of Hirofumi, and with his deep knowledge of anime music and culture, the team was complete!
Q: Who was in charge of determining which anime songs would be arranged in each volume of Platina Jazz? Were you able to freely choose or did someone else bring up a list of songs for you to work off of?
A: I had a few favourites of my own for each volume, but I had nowhere near the broad knowledge of Hirofumi and Yuzuru, so the way we worked it out was that first they would send me around 70 songs.
Then Martin Persson (the pianist of Platina Jazz, who is also a core member of the team) and I sat down and listened to all of them, determining which ones could be successful as jazz cover versions. We then sent back a list of around 30 possible songs, along with a handful of “must-haves”. From that, Hiro and Yuzuru made the final selection, based on variety in the anime (release year, demographics, style, things like that).
Q: Of all the songs you and your team had to arrange, which one was the most difficult and what about it made it so difficult?
A: I must say the most difficult ones are the ones that were already quite close to the musical ideals we were aiming for. Songs by Yoko Kanno, Joe Hisaishi and Ryuichi Sakamoto where already so masterfully arranged that we had to work really hard to make any improvement in a good way. One of my favourite songs, “Aimo Aimo,” was one of the hardest of the latest volume, simply because the original version is so good!
It was much easier to transform a speedy techno-ish track like “Hare Hare Yukai” or “Happy Material,” because wherever you decide to take it, it will be monumentally different from the original.
Q: As you went about listening to the original songs during the arrangement process, did you notice any discernible element that Japanese music uses that you think Western music largely neglects?
A: Absolutely, and this is something that I have picked up on as a producer and composer long before I started the Platina Jazz project. A lot of Japanese music (and I would say anime music in particular) is not shy of being very detailed and advanced in its structure. And it is so without losing its public appeal. This I find really different from Western pop music, where a certain simplicity is a necessity (or at least widely believed to be) in order to have commercial appeal.
I also find the way Japanese music works with harmonies (and how the Japanese audience appreciates it) is quite different, very much to my liking. The harmony structure is largely made so that it inflicts feeling of a sort of romantic, naive, idealistic world. This harmonic feeling is quite unusual in Western pop music, but I have for some reason embraced it from since I started making music, and I think that’s a large part of why my music became popular there in the first place.
Then there are other differences. The energy level in many anime songs is extremely high, to the point where it becomes humorous to a Western audience. Along with an extremely quick flow of information in these songs, it’s almost hard to discern the melodies sometimes. But this is one of the things that makes it so rewarding to turn these songs into jazz, because sometimes we are able to extract really beautiful melodies out of these songs, which might otherwise be a bit buried in the “craziness” of the original arrangement.
A: I would say I find those type of soundtracks intriguing, not because of the jazz elements, but because of the unique qualities it has as Japanese music. I feel that Japanese music in general, and anime music in particular, to sound the best when its not trying to be something its not, so in that sense I wouldn’t perceive those soundtracks as quality jazz, however, they are still great pieces of music. By the way, this line of reasoning can be applied to many fields of music and arts, not just limited to Japanese music.
Q: Aside from Ryuichi Sakamoto, are there any anime composers/music artists whom you really enjoy listening to?
A: As mentioned above, I really love Yoko Kanno and Joe Hisaishi. I also really like Koji Ueno’s soundtrack from Fantastic Children.
Q: You’ve mentioned enjoying a lot of the older anime that have become classics such as Akira, Wings of Honneamise, Princess Mononoke, and Macross Plus. Have you been getting much of a chance to watch any anime from the past decade and if so, which ones stand out as being some of your favorites?
A: I’ve been watching quite a lot of anime recently actually! Some of my favourites are: Noein, Fantastic Children, Macross Frontier, Summer Wars, Eureka 7, Planetes & Gundam Seed.
Q: Is there a possibility that anime fans can influence the track selection for Vol. 3?
A: That’s an interesting idea for sure! It would definitely be nice to get some fan interaction going within the track selection process!
Q: Lastly, is there any possibility of performing these arrangements live at a North American anime convention?
A: Well, I’m certain the band would be very much delighted to perform at such event if we were to be invited!
Final Notes and Plugs:
Incidentally, if you go on the Platina Jazz Youtube page, you’ll find quite a few videos of the rehearsals and whatnot. I also really liked what I heard out of “Hajimete no Chuu,” which works really well, especially if you’re familiar with the original. I’ve reproduced that video below:
Also, here’s hoping someone in charge of a North American anime convention sees this so they can get the ball rolling on Faber’s response to my last question! Bring the Platina Jazz crew over for a live performance, I say!