|Rasmus Faber Presents Platina Jazz ~Anime Standards Vol. 3~
|February 8, 2012
|Amazon, CDJapan, iTunes
|01. Galaxy Express 999 (from “Galaxy Express 999”)
|02. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (from “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”)
|03. A Town With an Ocean View (from “Kiki’s Delivery Service”)
|04. We are Elementary School Students (from “Three-Way Struggle Increased!”)
|05. Sad Presentiment (from “Tsukuyomi -MOON PHASE-“)
|06. 1/2 (from “Rurouni Kenshin”)
|07. H.T (from “Trigun”)
|08. The Palm of a Tiny Hand (from “CLANNAD”)
|09. Platina (from “Cardcaptor Sakura”)
|10. Lupin III•Love Theme (from “Lupin III: Part II”)
|11. In the Silence of the Shining Sky (from “Kuroshitsuji II”)
|12. Love Me Delicately (from “Magical Angel Creamy Mami”)
|13. The Promise of an Angel (from “His and Her Circumstances”)
|14. Target a (from “When Cicadas Cry Solutions”)
|15. God Only Knows (from “The World God Only Knows”)
|16. En Route on the Journey (from “Spice and Wolf”)
|17. Gravity (from “WOLF’S RAIN”)
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[audio:https://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/galaxy999.mp3]
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[audio:https://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/nausicaa.mp3]
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).
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.
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.
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[audio:https://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/silence.mp3]
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[audio:https://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/promise-of-an-angel.mp3]
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[audio:https://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/god-only-knows-also-my-jewish-friends-grandmother.mp3]
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[audio:https://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/tabi-no-tochuu.mp3]
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.