Ani-Jazz 1st Note – Review

Album Title: Ani-Jazz 1st Note
Anime Title: Various
Artist: Tokyo Brass Style
Catalog Number: HMCH-1007
Release Type: Arrangement
Release Date: Nov 25, 2005
Purchase at: CDJapan


Tracklist:

Show »

Track Title Artist Time
01. ~BRASS STYLE INTRO~ Tokyo Brass Style 0:28
02. Astro Boy Tokyo Brass Style 4:23
03. Cutie Honey Tokyo Brass Style 3:37
04. Galaxy Express 999 Tokyo Brass Style 3:49
05. Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan Tokyo Brass Style 4:33
06. Lum no Love Song Tokyo Brass Style 4:30
07. Hyokkori Hyoutanjima Tokyo Brass Style 3:06
08. Himitsu no Akko-chan Tokyo Brass Style 4:35
09. Eightman Tokyo Brass Style 3:39
10. Touch Tokyo Brass Style 3:40
11. Lupin the 3rd ’78 Tokyo Brass Style 4:41

Review: It begins with the saxophones crooning a series of slow notes, before the trumpets pop in and a cacophony of madness floods the air in stereo. This sound swirls and swirls, changing time every couple of seconds before ending in a climatic chord not unlike the opening sequence of a 70s cop show, complete with an extended echo.

And that’s just the thirty-second intro track.

Allow me to present the ladies of Tokyo Brass Style (or Brasta Style as they term themselves). They are an eleven-piece all-girl brass band, with a distinct swing-jazz big band style that will keep the toes tapping and the fingers snapping. Some dancing might ensue as well. They are almost like the famed Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, except smaller, louder and way more frenzied.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of musical re-arrangements; that is, remixes or re-imaginings of music that try to better the original or alter the context altogether. That’s where the fun is and what jazz (to me) is all about – this deconstruction and interpretation of tried and tested music.

Started in 2005, this firecracker of a band has thirteen albums under its belt. In this album, Tokyo Brass Style tackles famous anime themes from the 1960s onwards. The oldies are always more fun. While they can be open to interpretation and changed easily, there’s still a need to keep the main theme clear for listeners. The trick is finding that balance.

Just from their second track, I can tell their motto is to hit hard and hit harder. Trumpets are used in excess here, and that’s a good thing. In the Astro Boy theme, they contribute to the jaunty march, and are allowed free reign to blow a jitterbug before the trombone comes in with a swinging solo. Their version of the evergreen “Hyokkori Hyoutanjima” starts off loud and finishes even louder. There’s also a very cool saxophone part that trails this tongue-in-cheek piece.

Hyokkori Hyoutanjima

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The ska-like Cutey Honey has manic energy to it, and I definitely dug the fat sounds the trumpets are throwing out. Saxophones pop in with their solos, softly and calmly before the drums throw a more modern break-beat when the chorus kicks in. But it’s the trombone and horn that impress here. Expect blaring solos, some classical takes and if you listen carefully, a little Star Wars tid-bit to pepper the song. It’s this seamless juxtaposition of traditional and modern arrangements that make this piece so much fun to listen to.

“Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan” is the opening song for Sakura Wars, which is one of my favourite anime/games ever, so I was certainly curious at how they would tackle this beloved theme. Its soft piano intro bears little resemblance to the original song but this quickly leads to a fast waltz, before a very pretty trumpet solo slips in. I especially enjoyed the bridge, where the band plays together without rhythmic accompaniment, before the brilliant keyboards come in to bring with it a neat and utterly classy feel to the piece. The piece ends epically in chords familiar to all fans of the Sakura Wars franchise.

Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan

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The familiar Sakura Wars chords are just one example of the best things about this album:  the little Easter eggs it scatters about, encouraging fans to pick them out. There are others too, like the Latin-infused “Lum’s Love Song,” which keeps the adorable “I love you” parts in the beginning, just like the original. It’s an homage to the source material and gets a thumbs-up from me.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this album is its different styles of play. The songs are all swing jazz, yes, but gee, so many types! So many decades! “Theme of Eightman” has a definite 1960s feel about it, with a pulsing bass not unlike Adam West’s Batman. Touch is more cautious and laidback, with a dangerous 1970s street to it, and very interesting time signature changes thrown in. The ladies again exude class in the Galaxy Express 999 theme. Considering the original opening theme was an operatic march that bordered on the epic, this arrangement lightens up the mood with something you can bop to. Think 1940-50s champagne dinner swing, complete with uniformed dancers on the floor. The rhythm sections shine in the background, while the muted trumpet and baritone saxophone dance about in a fine duet.

Eightman

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The album ends on a bang, with the theme of one of anime’s most well-loved villains/heroes. An exciting blast of horns heralds the arrival of Lupin the Third, and it never slows down the chase. A Latin-esque bridge appears before the main theme, and surprisingly fits in nicely when the solos are layered over it. I like to specially mention the baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, which have a terrific combination of solos and play off each other with much freedom and precision.

Lupin the 3rd ’78

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One thing this album could have benefited from though, are the production values. I found the rhythm section a little too quiet; the drums didn’t sound hard enough sometimes and the bass was lacking in a bit of energy in “Lum’s Love Song.”  Given that this is the band’s first album, that’s easily forgivable.

This album is a firecracker. The girls are technically brilliant and the arrangements are very inspired. They barely stop for a breath and keep energy levels at a high throughout the entire album. Most important of all, it’s fun. Very fun. This is a labour of love by fans for fans, and is a must–listen.

Rating: Excellent

About the author

maskerade I'm an avid listener of Anime Music, with Yoko Kanno my Goddess. I'm also a huge fan of jazz and have enjoyed the currents of the indie Jrock scene these past years. I'm also an unfortunate rambler and starving writer, all of which leads me to write reviews for this fair blog. I tend to stare a lot.

6 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Rhythmroo says:

    Nicely done. Not only did I enjoy the review, but loved the choice album for the review. :3

    Keeping on the subject of Jazz…. what specific genres of Jazz do you like in particular? Swing is one from the looks of it, but anything else in particular? I might have some [anime ost] recommendations for ya if there are certain ones you are looking for ;)

    • The only non-problem with this review is that the samples are pretty awesome and hearing those oldies like Sakura Wars’s theme really hits it quite nicely in bringing in the nostalgia with a good dose of novelty. I’ll have to keep the wallet open on this one since what you’ve provided us with reeks of quality, and dammit, I want to hear more! D:

  2. maskerade says:

    @ Rhythmroo: Thanks a lot! Jazz types, well… all kinds. Big fan of big bands, trios, quartets etc. Not looking for anything at the moment but who would you recommend? :D

    @zz: Sakura Wars is my ultimate favourite guilty pleasure. Been playing the games since forever, which is why that rendition gripped me so much. And yes, you should take out your cash. It’s quite worth it. They also have a beautiful Ghibli arrangement CD which I might write about later down the track.

  3. Baka-Raptor says:

    Trumpets are used in excess? Is that even possible?

  4. Aftershok says:

    Amazing to think that women were once thought incapable of producing sound on a brass instrument on par with men. Though we’ve yet to a female equivalent of Maynard, albums like these sure put myths like those to rest! I’m also pretty surprised to see how such a novel ensemble as this managed to be financially successful enough to pump out 13 studio albums.

    Though I can see what they were aiming for, “Tokyo Brass” is a bit of a misnomer, with saxophones and all.

    Great review.

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