We’ve really enjoyed the BRA BRA brass arrangement CDs, so it was cool to not only see a live concert series in Japan featuring some of the arrangements, but also a new CD featuring a collection of recordings both old and new, but mostly new, with some of my favorites from the series yet.
The album opens with the infectiously upbeat “Opening Theme” from Final Fantasy that treads on big band, surf rock, and ska territories before “Moogle’s Theme” puts forth the expected comedic approach with playful tuba and silly tempo shifts. “Main Theme” from Final Fantasy V is energetic and upbeat, with a full production behind the brass (the recording is borrowed from elsewhere), while “Gogo ~ Slam Shuffle” is pure fun on recorder, “Johnny C Bad” is rambunctious, and “Spinach Rag ~ Character Medley” from Final Fantasy VI visits all of our favorite themes from the game, although sometimes too briefly, in big band style, with Gogo, Celes, and Setzer’s themes standing out.
There are a number of surprises featured throughout which blew me away. “Fisherman’s Horizon” is one of Uematsu’s finest compositions, and the beautifully layered and swelling performance is simply moving. “Shuffle or Boogie ~ Waltz for the Moon,” also from Final Fantasy VIII, is another surprise, ranging from upbeat to tense to funky with a killer saxophone solo. Final Fantasy IV’s “Final Battle” never gets enough love, and the lightning-fast percussion, brass stabs and swells, and wonderful solos make for a spectacular and completely unexpected experience. Similarly, the “Main Theme from Final Fantasy VII” sports a cinematic arrangement for brass, acoustic guitar, and piano, and is hardly recognizable, but when you do recognize pieces and bits, it’s quite serene. I’d love an entire album of this style of arrangement, as it reminded me a bit of the Genso Suikoden III Bosque Aroma arrangement album. Finally, a secret track at the end brings another surprise with an upbeat loungy jazz version of “Birth of a God” from Final Fantasy VII, closing out on a high note.
What really allows this album to stand out is the inclusion of tracks that rarely get this sort of attention, and were completely unexpected. I hope Square Enix and arrangers contributing to these projects continue to take risks in the future. Unfortunately the album is only being sold at tour stops in Japan, but I imagine it’ll turn up after the tour is through at the end of 2016. Keep an eye out.