Tag Archives: Orchestra

Review: BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS de BRAVO 2017 with Siena Wind Orchestra

We’ve covered a lot of Brass de Bravo, and shortly after Brass de Bravo 3 was released, Square Enix held a live performance at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. This is a Blu-ray recording of the concert, and it’s a riot. I’ve attended and viewed many concerts over the years, but this one looks like it was one to attend. The set list centers closely around the Brass de Bravo 3 album and focuses heavily on Final Fantasy V, VII, and IX, but the quirkiness of the event and fan participation really set it apart, and as such, I’ll focus mostly on the event.

There’s a full wind orchestra that is heavy on clarinets and saxophone, although other interesting instruments are featured, including the ephemera and more. I was lucky enough to watch alongside a saxophone player who was able to comment on the instruments while we watched. The event is emceed by none other than Nobuo Uematsu himself alongside Mami Yamashita. Uematsu has a great time and even performs on a few of the tracks. The fun begins with “Moogle Theme,” which opens with a man dressed in a moogle towel explaining rhythmic clapping and dance moves that the audience needs to perform along with the song. The moogle man is ousted by a pancho and sombrero-wearing man who takes the audience through even more ridiculous dance moves. The audience complies, which is a lot of enjoyable silliness to watch. During the Final Fantasy main theme, the audience is invited to play along with their own recorders, creating a pretty amazing sound as dozens of audience members join the orchestra. The second half sports some smaller ensembles, including a swingin’ “Dear Friends,” an intimate “Elia, Maiden of Water,” and a fun “Vamo’alla Flamenco,” complete with traditional Spanish tap dancing with the percussion section gripping roses between their teeth. They let the audience pick the final track, which was surprisingly “Festival of the Hunt” from Final Fantasy IX instead of “Battle on the Big Bridge.” The encore was another audience participation track: “Mambo de Chocobo.” This time, everyone who wanted to participate came up on stage with a variety of instruments… lots of shakers, a plastic trombone, a melodica running through a laptop, and more. It was completely wild and looked like a blast.

While the arrangements on some of these are straightforward, this concert footage is downright fun. If you’ve enjoyed any game music concerts on video, this is definitely one to get. Invite some friends over, have some drinks, and get ready for some laughs!

Grab it on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY THE JOURNEY OF 100

Ask, and you shall receive? When we reviewed the Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY THE JOURNEY OF 100 Blu-ray disc back in 2015, my only gripe was that the MP3 files weren’t housed on the disc. Well, this year, to celebrate 30 years of Final Fantasy, Square Enix released the music on CD.

I’ll simply quote our 2015 review here:

They play many of the classics, including the iconic “One-Winged Angel,” a lovely healing rendition of “The Prelude,” the rousing “Final Fantasy” theme, and the wondrous “Main Theme from Final Fantasy VII.” Some new arrangements come courtesy of Piano Opera Final Fantasy pianist Hiroyuki Nakayama, and are a real treat. “Balance is Restored” from Final Fantasy VI stands out in particular, visiting several of the game’s key themes, along with Susan Calloway’s rendition of Final Fantasy XII’s vocal theme, “Kiss Me Good-Bye,” “Roses of May” from Final Fantasy IX, an explosive “Torn from the Heavens” from Final Fantasy XIV (with Masayoshi Soken in attendance), singer Emiko Shiratori reprising her role as vocalist on Final Fantasy IX’s “Melodies of Life,” and an amazing battle medley covering Final Fantasy I – XIV which picks some often-missed tracks, including the final battle theme from Final Fantasy V and a jazzy rendition of the Final Fantasy VIII battle theme. The orchestra reacting to the fan reaction to “Swing de Chocobo” was cute, too, as well as the upright bass player really getting into the piece. Finally, the encore “J-E-N-O-V-A Complete” was also fantastic, really pushing the orchestra to adopt an aggressive battle sound.

Unfortunately this album was sold only at their Tokyo Game Show 2017 booth. While that means it’s not widely available at the moment, I’d suggest keeping an eye on their website to pick it up if you’re interested.

Review: BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY Gaiden: Minna de Bravo!

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.

Review: BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS de BRAVO 2

While Square Enix has ended its SQ arrangement album series, I always kind of felt that the BRA BRA Final Fantasy Brass de Bravo album fit within that space. While the same wind ensemble performed the entire album, the eclectic styles perhaps accounted for this perception. I loved the first album, but didn’t expect more, so I was surprised when the follow-up was announced.

BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS de BRAVO 2 presents 12 new arrangements, once again in varying styles. There are straightforward orchestral presentations of the fan-favorite “Battle at the Big Bridge” and a medley of overworld themes from the first three Final Fantasy games, but also a epic and triumphant spin on the Final Fantasy IV overworld, a somber and somewhat glorious take on “Cosmo Canyon” with staccato woodwind additions that brought Spirited Away to mind, the flamenco-tigned “Something to Protect,” and a sleazy swingin’ jazz version of “Kefka” that is a real treat. There are sweet woodwinds in what’s probably my favorite version of Final Fantasy VII’s “Gold Saucer,” a big band with bumpin’ bass version of “The Man With the Machine Gun,” the grand and epic “Fight With Seymour,” the gentle sway of “Fragments of Memories,” and a live rendition of “Mambo de Chocobo.”

Final Fantasy fans will enjoy the varied approaches taken with this album, so pick it up at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Final Symphony music from Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X

Final Symphony represents one of the most ambitious undertakings Thomas Boecker and Merregnon Studios have attempted to date. While their “Symphonic” series has been a smashing success, with productions dedicated to the works of Chris Huelsbeck (Symphonic Shades), Nobuo Uematsu (Symphonic Odysseys), Square Enix (Symphonic Fantasies), and others, Final Symphony brings together an assortment of Final Fantasy titles and presents them in a grand classical tradition. Prepare to hear your favorite “tunes” from the Final Fantasy series elevated to a new level with expert arrangements by the team at Merregnon Studios (Roger Wanamo and Jonne Valtonen) and by Masashi Hamauzu himself.

After an original playful opener, “A Circle Within a Circle Within a Circle,” the album launches into an epic 18-minute suite from Final Fantasy VI titled “Born with the Gift of Magic,” which opts for a narrative angle by telling the tale of Terra and her conflict with the empire, her past, and with the tyrant Kefka. There’s a lot of turmoil embedded in the music, and my favorite moment is the mysterious take on “Another World of Beasts.” There’s a piano concerto arranged by Hamauzu that masterfully combines various themes from the game into a coherent musical experience, and a three movement symphony dedicated to Final Fantasy VII that also adopts a narrative format, focusing on Sephiroth, Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and the epic showdown between them. A few pieces are shorter in length, including “Suteki da ne” from Final Fantasy X, “Continue?” from Final Fantasy VII, and a clever “Fight, Fight, Fight!” which sports battle themes from across all three titles presented in a unique way as they battle with one another to be heard.

The release comes housed on a Blu-ray disc which can be watched in a Blu-ray player, showing off photos from the recording sessions while you listen to the sometimes-beautiful, sometimes-intense performance by the London Symphony Orchestra. The MP3s are also housed on the disc, so you can take the music with you on the go. The included booklet is written in Japanese and English, and includes bios for all of the artists as well as a wonderfully-written listener’s guide that explains the creative decisions that went into the music, allowing the casual listener like myself to understand what’s being represented by the various musical passages.

I referred to the original scores as “tunes” at the start of this review because this presentation is so steeped in the classical tradition that it makes the source material sound almost like child’s play. That’s not to say it’s without merit, as nothing can top the nostalgia provided by the original sound source, but if you ever want to impress your classically-trained music friends with what game music can be as heard through the lens of true classical music, show them Final Symphony. It feels like the adult way to enjoy Final Fantasy music.

Final Symphony is out in September and can be pre-ordered from CD Japan.