Thursday, May 10, 2012

Game Music Review "Monster Hunter Swing ~Big Band Jazz Arrange~"

All that matters is saxophones. 

And If you like them, you can't help liking Zac Zinger's one-man big band with some help from his friends on Monster Hunter Swing ~Big Band Jazz Arrange~.

From the adorably illustrated cover I'd love to have as a poster print, it's a swingin' disc that could have been more swank.  

Monster Hunter is a series that has seen a flow of cash cow merchandising that Westerners don't see over the snowcapped mountains of Japan's shores. Unlike the louder Capcom franchises like Resident Evil or Mega Man, Monster Hunter churns out mad in its native land not quite mirroring that level of appeal in the US with its games crowding bargain bins of discounters and disgraced GameSlops

More so, The series has captured a great deal of musical attention in the past couple years with an array of arranged genres from Orgel to Orchestral so it was just a matter of time before more pop-western stylings would emerge to sound better on your portable music devices. Thus, Big Band and a forthcoming Guitar album will be coming to your speakers soon.

Not having much experience with the Monster Hunter series, I jump (and jive) at any jazz-tinged arrange that the industry will allow even if it's buried deep within a forested maze of acoustics and strings that is the heavenly Sekaiju no MeiQ (Etrian Odyssey) arrange discography.

Capcom's label Suleputer isn't known for producing arranges in great numbers but typically has had a good stream of multi-disc soundtracks and boxsets over budgets for arrange projects but has been chancing it lately with Monster Hunter. Having built a foundation as a fledgling series with iterations and additions as a Capcom goldleader would be expected to (Arcade Edition, Plus, SUPER, et. al), it's clear that this series will spawn more such albums in coming years. 

Off the bat, they sent Monster Hunter Swing out West to lauded, accomplished young Berkeley alum Zac Zinger, with whom I had the honor of seeing perform live with the Berkeley College's Shota Nakama and his triumphant 90-pc. Video Game Orchestra a few years back, playing the soprano sax on Akira Yamaoka's Laura's Theme.

The multitalent Zinger put Swing together over a four-month stint, practically handling all the core duties, primarily playing alto and soprano saxophones and some tenor and baritone and is also an accomplished flute, carinet and EWI (Electric Wind Instrument) player. On the surface.

To my big surprise, the big band is not much of a big band at all but instead Mr. Zinger impressively sequencing most of the instrumentals including piano, upright bass, drum programs and additional keyboard work to synthesize the cutesy orchestra portrayed on the jacket. Royal scam or not and as befuddled was I on a few tracks throughout multiple listening sessions here I was thinking I was hearing a live brass solos likely dealt by his trusty EWI, which escapes any mention in the album's slim-to-no liner credits. While it's not a live band setting, the sound was produced with a top-notch tone where seconds in you'll doubt there was no band in on this album's ten cuts. The synthesized trombone solo on Sparking Blue Light ~ Jin'ouga is almost real if not for the crackle and treble blowing its cover.

Still, there's no mistaking its gamey sound which helps keep the origin intact in places with off-octave phony big band backings on some tracks, which works well and not so much on others. Impressively, the piano, bass and even some of the brass solos sound superb and as live as the saxes but were likely this way to stretch the allotted budget for the album.

Not without some help, there's a small list of additional Boston-area musicians for polish.
While most tracks fit within the realm of big band, Zinger fuses other jazz stylings like funk with the (80's) electric bass backings and solos on Bracchidios, beautifully fitting fretless bass solo on Secret Hot Springs and the aforementioned attitude of electric guitars on Cat Scat Fever, the latin piano and percussion on Tremble of the Sea and Land / Lagiacrus the cinematic opener A Proven Hero and smooth jazz with flute and soprano sax and brush drums on Searching for Secret Hot Springs and Pokke Village Theme with a plush, inviting alto sax lead.

His limited orchestra of pro performers include a solo here and there from fellow Boston-area friends including a guitar, trumpet and a electric bassist on the funky, groovy Scat Cat Fever, a baritone sax soloist on the disc's final track, some of the sound atypically finds its way in any big band your Brylcreemed grandpops' gramophone and records.

The selections are considered series standards, most of which are found on other Monster Hunter arrange discs or reprisals on the over 20 Monster Hunter releases with one making an arrange debut one the ninth track Brave Icon ~ Bracchidos from 3G.

It's not easy to pick a favorite here. Not because there are so many but because the album, while proficient as its arranger Zinger, seem to blend into a streaming similarity soup of synthesized audio, a tad overmixed with a thick of multilayered GarageBandesque of live saxophones, soloists and sequencing madness. 

Still, I can't help but to appreciate the fun Zinger had creating Scat Cat Fever from the bevy of wind and brass solos from start, peppering throughout and even the hollowing cat samples to fit and set apart from the rest of the tracks. Could have used more of these, including the album's other star Rob O'Block, laying down some fine bluesy chops, adding just the desired touch and distinction of jazz-fusion flavor.

I've wanted to see many things over the last couple years and have been let down in the face of Capcom's allowance of arrange albums including We Are ROCK-MEN! which exploded out the door with it's few fierce rock arranges but ultimately underwhelmed though not to the capacity of the 20th Anniversary Arrange let-downs. I wanted to like Big Band Jazz Arrange more but ultimately couldn't help feeling this one left half-hearted like We Are ROCK-MEN.

Though it's not exactly the level of polish expected (maybe too much polish, actually) and the overall sound of a tinny mock orchestra mar the seriousness of the album, there's much to love on this disc to be had for anyone craving some jazz and swing with a little more and a series of excellent saxophone solos in every track and performance by the exuberantly talented, young Zinger. Capcom's directors did not misstep outsourcing this project to a what is sure to be the profile of an up-and-coming winds player, composer, arranger and director I'd like to hear more of game and otherwise.


Monster Hunter Swing ~Big Band Jazz Arrange~
1. Proof of A Hero
2. Sparkling Blue Light / Jin'ouga
3. Empress of Flame / Lunastra & Teostra
4. Pokke Village Theme
5. Dance of The Snow Village
6. Scat Cat Fever
7. Searching for the Secret Hot Spring 
8. Tremble of the Sea and Land / Lagiacrus
9. Brave Icon ~ Bracchidios
10. Hunter, Go Forth 
Music Samples Heard Here

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