|Rasmus Faber presents Platina Jazz ~Anime Standards Vol.2~
|Rasmus Faber, Niklas Gabrielsson, Emily McEwan
|November 17, 2010
|01. Hajimete no Chuu (My First Kiss)
|Rasmus Faber, Niklas Gabrielsson
|02. Bouken Desho Desho?
|03. Adesso e Fortuna
|05. Skies of Love
|Rasmus Faber, Emily McEwan
|06. Ai no Field
|07. Merry-Go-Round of Life
|08. Akatsuki no Kuruma
|09. Yakusoku wa Iranai
|10. Hello, Vifam
|Rasmus Faber, Emily McEwan
|11. Sobakasu (Freckles)
|12. For Fruits Basket
|13. Yume no Tamago
|Rasmus Faber, Emily McEwan
|15. Aimo – Tori no Hito
|16. Tamashii no Refrain
|17. Kigurumi Wakusei
|18. Ai Oboete Imasuka (Do You Remember Love)
Review: From under one corporate umbrella are two car companies unlike in dignity. In Volkswagen, the image of fun but frugal prevails. In Audi, the sleek sexiness suitable for the likes of Iron Man. Prudence dictates that these companies shouldn’t compete between themselves and cannibalize sales from each other. With that in mind, consider that, in 2002, Volkswagen released a car called the Phaeton, the very antithesis of this business concept. The car had an Audi engine, an Audi design, an Audi-like interior, all at a near-Audi price; it was essentially a rebadged Audi.
Naturally, I questioned this decision. Why make the car so similar to an Audi? Why even call it a Volkswagen? Why go through the trouble? Why not just make another, better Audi?
It was then I realized I was missing the point.
The Phaeton wasn’t about being the undisputed sales leader or profit center. It wasn’t about being a world-beating, do-everything car. It was more emotional than that, more passionate. It was a challenge; a declaration of what Volkswagen could accomplish in the luxury market that they had previously dared not tread.
The result? An exquisite, roomy, comfortable, cutting edge, powerful, handsomely-designed sales disaster. But, again, that’s not the point.
This brings me, finally, to Platina Jazz Vol.2.
The album may be surprising in a number of ways. Those expecting lightly-rearranged, jazz-flavored covers of their favorite anime songs will be sorely disappointed; if you’re looking for the same sort of sparkle and flair of the originals, you’ll find little to like here. The versions of the anime staples here are entirely reimagined, totally deconstructed, rebuilt-from-the-ground-up jazz songs that are unapologetically just jazz. Think less the Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout” and more John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things,” and you’re getting the general idea. These songs only have a passing resemblance to their originals. In fact, some numbers are barely even recognizable as the songs to which they’re supposedly paying tribute.
I wondered at one point why Rasmus Faber even decided to base an album off of anime tunes. Why even bother? Why target a niche market of a niche market? Why make the songs so unrecognizable? Why not just make another, better, purely jazz album?
Again, I was simply looking at it the wrong way.
Platina Jazz Vol.2 is a variety of expression, loving fandom, and delicate homage that I had simply not encountered before. The point of this album is not to regurgitate the anime songs over again in a jazz setting. Rather, it aims to translate everything that was great about the source material into an entirely different paradigm. It’s only once you understand this and only after you remove yourself from unfair expectations that you begin to realize how clever the adaptations are and how beautifully this album is executed.
Hajimete no Chuu
Consider “Hajimete no Chuu,” a slow-and-steady power ballad turned buttery-smooth big-band smoocher in the vein of Sinatra and Crosby. Though not totally indicative of the style of the rest of the album, it sets a high standard in terms of execution and quality. The lively, bouncy instrumentals are typical big-band fare, but Niklas Gabrielsson’s vocals are what really steal the show. Low key and unflashy, his voice work here is just so spot-on in a velvety coddling leading-man sort of way that, not only will women be attracted to him, men who thought they were heterosexual may be compelled to reconsider.
But it’s “Hajimete no Chuu” that’s the anomaly; much of the remainder of the album takes on a very west-coast vibe. Ironically anticlimactic, hyper-cool, and irreverently laid-back, Faber’s exhibited style here is less Monk/Bird than it is Brecker/Desmond.
Bouken Desho Desho?
“Bouken Desho Desho?” of Haruhi fame is a perfect example of this approach. The melody and chord structure carries this one quite well into a bossa nova interpretation. The intricate arrangement and energy in the original are replaced by a more thoughtful, relaxed persona. In the typical jazz style, an opening recitation of the main melody is just used to introduce the chord progression that will be the basis for improvisation. The piano and bass solos are tame as far as jazz solos go, but the key words here seem to be “tasteful” and “understated.” The way the piano plays off of the bass during the latter’s solo is very well done and a lot of fun.
Much the same can be said of Toradora’s “Preparade,” though some wind instruments have been thrown into the mix. Like “Bouken Desho Desho?,” “Preparade” is a somewhat mellowed, funky Latin take on its namesake. The melody is played rather straight by the winds, but is peppered with some delicious improvised counterpoint from the piano. The trumpet and tenor sax provide some of the more satisfyingly rambunctious solos on the disc, though they may be a bit strange and off the wall for the uninitiated. Those with jazz inclinations will find much to like, however.
Skies of Love
Just as you’re settling into the jazz club style, the album suddenly takes a sharp right to more straightforward fare. “Skies of Love” is a beautiful ballad that maintains much of the romanticism of the original. Emily McEwan returns to contribute her vocals from Platina Jazz Volume 1, though her typically clean and sensitive delivery could have used a bit more emotional oomph. The star of this tune is undoubtedly the piano solo, especially in how heavily it deviates from the source material compared to the rather no-nonsense vocals. It’s amazing how different a song can sound with a piano solo dancing around chord tones. The bass is always the unsung hero in any genre, and I must commend it here for exhibiting some fantastic and subtle call-and-response.
Akatsuki no Kuruma
Rasmus throws us another curveball with “Akatsuki no Kuruma.” Featuring a string quartet, the arrangement is certainly impressive but feels somewhat out of place on the album, with a too-short, too-straight piano solo. It adds up to be an absolutely beautiful ballad and one of my favorite numbers on the disc, but a few more notches of jazz would have done a lot to make this song truly great.
“Sobakasu (Freckles)” is probably the most successful translation to jazz displayed here. The song is instantly recognizable as its source material while being totally in another genre. It works shockingly well as a swinging big band barnburner. Constantly upbeat, it has some great, densely harmonized, sax soli work that seems to sparkle as the wonderfully subtle drums scurry things along. It was also nice to see Martin Persson on piano get out of the way for a bit to let the winds have their time to shine, even going so far as to feature a bari sax solo. A baritone sax player myself, I was pleased to hear that the largest of the (common) sax family was mixed very prominently in the overall mastering as well. Definitely one of the highlights of the disc.
Fans of Hanamaru Kindergarten should rejoice, as my favorite song on the disc hands down is the second ED song “Kigurumi Wakusei.” If this entire album is one great expression of fandom, then this tune represents the pinnacle of a loving fan tribute. The cleverest of all the songs here, “Kigurumi Wakusei” is a knowing wink to all fans that says “Yeah, we’re in on the joke, too.” When you consider the squeaky-voiced, dramatically drawn out irony and tongue-in-cheek mock-space-opera nature of the original, it’s downright hilarious how deadly serious they play this one out. The arrangement is absolutely fantastic. Blurring the line between big band jazz and wind ensemble neo-classicism, the score is satisfyingly dense and busy while allowing enough room for soloists, which, much to my delight, includes a bari sax. Everything down to the last detail from the original is lovingly translated to the big band style; the faux ending and teary trumpet lamentation were particularly well done in this regard.
It’d be a mistake to dub this disc a cover album. The songs here pay tribute in a less obvious way. There’s more love, more passion here than I expected. It’s one thing to be able to express your fandom by imitating your source material but quite another to truly make it your own. Think a claymation version of your favorite anime; a portrait of your favorite character done in the style of Picasso. True, some songs could have used a bit more polish, and the songs aren’t for everybody, but no one blamed Volkswagen for making a bad car.