Arrangement: Rasmus Faber Presents: Platina Jazz ~Anime Standards Vol. 3~ – Review

Album Title: Rasmus Faber Presents Platina Jazz ~Anime Standards Vol. 3~
Anime Title: Various
Artist: Rasmus Faber
Catalog Number: VICP-65036
Release Type: Arrangement
Release Date: February 8, 2012
Purchase at: Amazon, CDJapan, iTunes


Tracklist

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Track Title Artist Time
01. Galaxy Express 999 (from “Galaxy Express 999″) Rasmus Faber 3:11
02. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (from “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”) Rasmus Faber 4:04
03. A Town With an Ocean View (from “Kiki’s Delivery Service”) Rasmus Faber 3:14
04. We are Elementary School Students (from “Three-Way Struggle Increased!”) Rasmus Faber 4:49
05. Sad Presentiment (from “Tsukuyomi -MOON PHASE-”) Rasmus Faber 5:18
06. 1/2 (from “Rurouni Kenshin”) Rasmus Faber 4:46
07. H.T (from “Trigun”) Rasmus Faber 3:45
08. The Palm of a Tiny Hand (from “CLANNAD”) Rasmus Faber 4:05
09. Platina (from “Cardcaptor Sakura”) Rasmus Faber 4:31
10. Lupin III•Love Theme (from “Lupin III: Part II”) Rasmus Faber 4:43
11. In the Silence of the Shining Sky (from “Kuroshitsuji II”) Rasmus Faber 4:59
12. Love Me Delicately (from “Magical Angel Creamy Mami”) Rasmus Faber 3:06
13. The Promise of an Angel (from “His and Her Circumstances”) Rasmus Faber 4:45
14. Target a (from “When Cicadas Cry Solutions”) Rasmus Faber 5:24
15. God Only Knows (from “The World God Only Knows”) Rasmus Faber 6:52
16. En Route on the Journey (from “Spice and Wolf”) Rasmus Faber 5:03
17. Gravity (from “WOLF’S RAIN”) Rasmus Faber 4:54

Review:

It’s safe to say that no one saw Platina Jazz coming. As you likely already know, the series’ aim is to reinterpret much-loved songs from the anime canon into a jazz setting. While I was initially skeptical, the series in general has been thrilling, executed with real sensitivity and a palpable appreciation for the source material. Even if the performers weren’t total anime fanatics, the music of our beloved niche medium was being respected and taken seriously, and this reverence permeates every aspect of Platina Jazz. Its incredibly diverse source material selections, from background themes of classic films released in the 70’s to OP’s of very recent shows, were chosen with care. It would have been very easy to select some of the most popular songs from the past few years to adapt onto these albums, but the series has never resorted to pandering that way. This genuine, uncontrived musical philosophy is a part of what has made Platina Jazz such an artistic success.

Galaxy Express 999

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As we move into the album, Niklas Gabrielsson continues to impress as one of the strongest points of the disc. In a nod to the previous volume, he’s featured in the opening track: “Galaxy Express 999.” It’s a lively number in much the same style as “Hajimete no Chuu” from Platina Jazz Vol. 2 and is rather fantastic. I rarely like vocals in my jazz, but this is the kind of overbearingly stylish, lovably old-fashioned tune that just works with a leading dapper gentleman singing tenor (not being Freudian here, honest). Though he’s handed some rather hammy lines, he delivers them free of irony (almost) without coming off as schmaltzy or saccharine, a very fine line to tread.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

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Almost in response, “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” follows, featuring veteran Emily McEwan. Her performance on this volume rights many of the gripes I had of her from the previous installment. She manages to be expressive but low key in the typical jazz style without approaching sterility as she was in Vol. 2. Though her vocal style is very much in the jazz tradition, I would still like to hear her pull out the stops a little bit more and perform more emotionally. She pulls off that whispery and detached jazz-club songstress vibe quite well, but it’d be nice to listen to her channel that wonderful energy she had going in Platina Jazz Vol. 1 once again (her thrilling work on “Thanatos -If I Can’t Be Yours-” comes to mind).

Sad Presentiment

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The addition of a third vocalist in Sara Jangfeldt is quite refreshing. “Sad Presentiment” is among the best adaptations I’ve heard in a long time and stands as the best adaptation on the disc. I appreciate the decision to keep the song in its native French. I’ve always argued that a part of what makes vocal Japanese music appeal to English-speaking audiences is that it’s in a language the hearer doesn’t understand, sounding inherently foreign and exotic. If the song were originally in Japanese, it would have been a cop-out to not translate it, but retaining the French maintains the aura of the piece while not seeming disingenuous. Ms. Jangfeldt’s performance is impeccable and faultless, but it’s this tune’s affecting arrangement that steals the show.

H.T

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I’ve long called the baritone saxophone the coolest instrument in the world, and thanks to recent research conducted by a number of renowned, undoubtedly well-certified scientists, this was proven to be true via mathematics, physics experiments, and test tube results that you should not question because science. So, scientifically, to have a bari sax featured in any kind of song instantly makes it cool. As an unfortunate side effect, though, to have two bari saxes in any one song is sort of like dividing by zero. It’s simply too galactically cool be done, and has been deemed illegal in 37 states and much of Western Europe. It was a bold move, then, to record Trigun’s “H.T,” with the original’s two dueling guitars having been replaced illegally by a pair of baritone saxes. This song is absolutely, unconditionally the coolest song Platina Jazz has released thus far. The energy is explosive, and the idea for this arrangement is divinely inspired. It’s lamentable that the two baritone saxophonists credited as “Jonas Wall” and “Alberto Pinton” were forced to use pseudonyms to avoid arrest for recording this track.

Songs like “H.T” are evidence that the artists involved are having a good time, and Faber and company are very good at what they’re doing. But as the series hits its stride, there are some unfortunate inklings that some parts of the production are settling into a routine. Whether it’s due to familiarity or the musicians’ actual performances, there is just a slight tinge of complacency. Emily McEwan sings with the same round, kindly tone, Martin Persson’s piano embellishes solo melodies in the same, predictable way, and the series’ tone has remained rather consistent in its cool-ish west-coast sound. Perhaps it’s an indication that the series has matured, and we are beginning to know what to expect.

Platina

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Cardcaptor Sakura’s “Platina” really encapsulates this trend. When I heard this adaptation of “Platina” for the first time, I was immediately, intensely reminded of “For Fruits Basket” from Vol. 2. Their forms are virtually identical. Both begin with a piano solo riffing off themes from the melody for 15 to 20 seconds that goes into a pickup measure or two of brush drums, followed by a beat and a half or so of a pizzicato double bass that leads directly into the main melody. Martin Persson’s piano presents the melody fairly similarly between the two songs, and though in different places, the two even feature a bass solo. Though not an indication that the creative well is running dry (the track is still solid, all said), this sort of retread is an unfortunate wrinkle in a series that has been otherwise artistically sterling.

Furthermore, this album seems more “arranged” and less improvisation-oriented than previous installations. More emphasis is placed on larger groups playing explicitly written material than the spontaneous combo-like feel of earlier albums. On one hand, this could be a good thing; long sections of improvised solos have been used as filler material by producers cheaping out on hiring more arrangers to write music. On the other hand, it feels a bit like a retreat from the “real” jazz that made these albums so great. I dare not tread on as to what “real jazz” entails, but I humbly remind those involved that their series isn’t called “Platina Jazzy Arrangements.”

In the Silence of the Shining Sky

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For example, consider Kuroshitsuji II’s “In the Silence of the Shining Sky.” The way the texture changes with the instrumentation is beautifully done, but I wish the section devoted to the improvised solos was lengthier. I’m not saying every jazz tune on the planet must have a massive segment for solos, but, if I were to be so bold, I would argue that that’s exactly what jazz fans want to hear. Arrangements like these are clever when they’re uncompromised in their adaptations, and toning down any aspect of the jazz portion of “Platina Jazz” is a bad move.

The Promise of an Angel

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Target a

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To make up for this, there are a number of improvisation-heavy songs near the end of the album. First, “The Promise of an Angel” does the small jazz combo setting proud. A three-piece rhythm band number, it’s refreshing in that it tries nothing new without being tiresomely reiterative. Higurashi’s “Target a” is similarly well done, but is more ambitious, incorporating two keyboards into the song. Martin Persson is on the crunchy Hammond organ this time opposite Carl Bagge on grand piano, and the interplay between them is magnificent. The way one riffs in the spaces between phrases in the other’s solo is a lot of fun to listen to, and is the kind of bold setup I’d like to see more of in a pioneering series like this, much like “H.T” was.

God Only Knows

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I’d say “God Only Knows” is like Vol. 2’s “Kigurumi Wakusei” in that they’re sort of their respective album’s “flagship” tune. These are the sort of unrestrained, exciting barnburner tunes that have really substantiated these albums in the past. They’re in a sort of pseudo big band-style reminiscent of the more modern groups like Buddy Rich’s band and Maynard Fergusson’s band than the earlier-styled tunes like this disc’s “Love Me Delicately. It’s certainly one of the more exciting songs on the track list with its rambunctious solos and tightly woven arrangement, and I’m sure I needn’t reiterate that anything on the album is well done.

En Route on the Journey aka Tabi no Tochuu

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I finally arrive at “En Route on the Journey,” or as it’s more commonly referred, “Tabi no Tochuu.” This was the track I was most looking forward to, as I am a big fan of the original. I felt like there were a lot of directions they could have taken this, so I admit I thought that they took the safe way out. It’s a worthy cover of the original, but I just think there was a lot of potential that couldn’t quite be done justice by going with the combo-trio format. Chalk it up to familiarity, but I do grow increasingly fatigued of Martin Persson’s at times formulaic method of deconstructing a melody.

Platina Jazz is truly a special series. The albums have consistently delivered quality, and, over three volumes, that’s saying a lot. It’s transcended being a gimmicky cover album into a series that is inspiring in a deep way. Though the sheer novelty of it all has faded and the production is beginning to step on its own toes a bit, few offerings of this type have succeeded artistically the way Platina Jazz has.

Rating: Excellent

About the author

Aftershok A huge jazz nerd and unabashed fan of alternative rock, I joined Anime Instrumentality in December 2010. I tend to get very passionate when it comes to music and try my best to understand how it works. An enormous fan of The Pillows, among my favorite anime composers include Ko Otani and Yoko Kanno. My tastes in anime vary wildly, but I try to be as thoughtful about my viewing as I am about my listening. I play the saxophone.

10 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Joojoobees says:

    You raise an interesting issue. Anime itself is less a genre than a medium. Jazz has undergone such changes from the 20s through the 70s that it is hard to call it a genre as well. Thus taking anime music and making “Jazz” versions of it eventually raises some questions, such as “what is Jazz”? The Platina Jazz series has mostly focussed on the West Coast “Cool” sound, but even when it strays, it doesn’t stray very far. We never get a real Dixieland style, or something more modern, like the experimental and fusion sounds (think Bitches Brew, or something published by ECM). The result is an implicit statement that Jazz is West Coast “Cool”. Whereas I would not dispute that West Coast “Cool” is Jazz, those two statements don’t mean the same thing.

    Now, I must say that people have their own interests and special capabilities. It would be unfair to require of this project that they stray from sub-genres of Jazz that they enjoy and feel accomplished in. (After all, I maintain that a reason Yoko Kanno is so great is that her eclecticism — her mastery over a boggling range of musical styles — is rare, and should be treasured). So I get that. This is a limited view of Jazz interpretations of anime music, with a bias towards the more popular forms of Jazz.

    As to your other comments about the relationship of Jazz to improvisation, I think you have a valid point, but I am inclined to give these discs a pass, because it is recorded work. I have seen some YouTube videos of Rasmus Faber performing some pieces from volume 1 live, so I assume that part of the idea here is to establish basic arrangements, that would be used in a live performance as springboards for extemporization. Extending individual pieces by adding sections for improvisation would have resulted in fewer tracks per volume.

    This comment is already long, but I wanted to agree with you on the sincerity that comes across in this project. It is a real credit to Rasmus Faber and the other musicians that they treated the material with respect.

    • Aftershok says:

      Your first point about jazz as a genre is a good one. Though there are limitless ways at this point to define and identify jazz as it exists today, I would still argue that there is a core sound and style that is typically associated with jazz. It was within that framework that I generally based my definitions and descriptions, though I understand that to do was to unfairly disregard many branches of it.

      That said, I think we both agree that the albums thus far have not typically strayed far from this subset of jazz. Whether or not they should or shouldn’t, can or can’t vary their sound much beyond that isn’t within the judgement of myself or anybody else outside of the production, but my feeling was that there wasn’t a palpable effort on their part to do so, that’s all.

      I definitely agree, though, that jazz is definitely a music meant to be heard live. They say that recording jazz is like taking a photograph of a fireworks show- it’s just a single frame of an event that should be seen in person. Jazz, like a fireworks show, is something that only realizes all of its potential when it’s seen in motion. This is why I think the live performances are so vital, as it really does validate the discs in that minor, if very meaningful, way.

      I absolutely adore your long comments, so, please, don’t hold back on these lengthy, thoughtful comments of yours. It’s readers like you that keep me from getting complacent! Thanks, and sorry for the delayed response.

  2. maskerade says:

    KITAAAA!!

    I’ve been looking forward to this review and it has not disappointed. Platina 3 is a very smart album, and I really appreciate the craftsmanship and sincerity injected into it.

    I do agree with you AS (that’s my short form of AfterShok ahem), and that there are more arrangements than actual improvisations, but it really doesn’t bother me at all. Jazz is jazz with its myriad of types, and an arrangement with a bass line that changes the entire flow of the song, or a chord change that is both dissonant but intelligent, sets the heart racing and brings a smile to my face :D

    Songs I liked:
    HT, for those dueling Saxes
    God Only Knows (it keeps changing! Tell it to stop changing!!)
    Tabi no Tochuu
    The Palm of a Tiny Hand (Dango… dango… dango… I just like it ok? *crys that single manly tear*)

    • @maskerade
      I can also say that Tiny Palm scored big with me from the standpoint of sheer novelty. That a simple, cutesy lullaby could be jazzified so well earns Faber and his team a good amount of props for executing it so well while keeping in the spirit of the piece.

    • Aftershok says:

      Well, MR, you’re absolutely right in that jazz is just what the performers call jazz (which I believe is why smooth jazz exists as we know it). That said, there was just that tiny nagging feeling that the album could have been just that much more polished if it were different in that way.

      Also, I’ve never seen Clannad, so take that as you will.

      • maskerade says:

        Perhaps the team decided to take a different route, fewer intimate groupings and rather, striving for a bigger sound via arrangements. Nah, still quite happy with the output. It’s the most polished series for anime jazz I’ve heard so far.

        Though, can anybody tell me where this is from??? Chanced upon it while listening to ZZ’s music video:

        http://youtu.be/MvX1PAfeVlg

        Ignore the singing, and the opening 20 secs aren’t that inspiring, but MAN, what comes later! Very curious. Can anybody help?

  3. Kaikyaku says:

    I honestly never would have recognized the Galaxy Express 999 theme.

    • Aftershok says:

      I’d say that can be said of many of the tuned on the disc, and it’s been a trademark of the series thus far. It’s really in these small details that the cleverness of the songs come out, as you can really tell how much thought went into them as you being picking up on the themes.

  4. Geronimo S. says:

    It’s an interesting point that you made about the third album that it felt a little different compared to previous two album, because you hit it on the mark that this album is less improvisational. I could definitely understand that Platina Jazz has hit the pick of maturity that we are beginning to know what to expect. However I can’t myself really to agree with it because there was a time gap between the 2nd album and the 3rd album that I thought I was so used to listening the previous ones that I was treating the recent one unfairly. I may been judging too early.

    I definitely love more funk to the music. The big-band types are my favorites.

    • Aftershok says:

      I agree that the big band charts tend to be more exciting (“Kigurumi Wakusei” and “Sobakasu” from Vol. 2 come to mind), the superior individual artistry is usually found in the smaller, more intimate settings, as the musicians don’t have to worry about blending in and being part of an ensemble.

      When I say that Vol. 3 feels less improvisational than previous installments, I didn’t necessarily go to the tracklists of Vol. 1 and 2 and count the number of tunes that had lengthy solos. It is more the general impression the album gives that it sound more arrangement-focused than before. It’s certainly a symptom of maturity from the series, but, honestly, I do miss some of that scrappy newness when Platina was still that curious jazz thing that was being done by some Scandinavian artists, you know?

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