01 - Spinning the Tale
02 - Town: The Roadside Trees Outside the Window
03 - Labyrinth I: The Green Green Woodlands / Labyrinth I: Woodland Ruins
04 - Battle: Initial Strike / Battle: The First Campaign
05 - Labyrinth II: The Vast Primeval Hidden Grove
06 - Labyrinth III: The Thousand Year Old Blue Woodlands
07 - Labyrinth IV: The Withered Forest
08 - Labyrinth V: The Capital of Shinjuku / Labyrinth V: Heaven's Rock Seat
09 - Scene: Blue and White
10 - Come On, Start the Adventure!
11 - Labyrinth II: Ever-Scarlet Forest
12 - Labyrinth III: Woodlands of Frozen Forest
13 - Labyrinth IV: Cherry Tree Bridge
This is it. This is the album I've been waiting for. Norihiko Hibino arranging the work of Yuzo Koshiro? It's like the glory days of Falcom all over again. Heck, they're even using the term "Super Arrange Version."
The "Piano and Strings" title is deceiving. Yes, for the most part it is piano and bowed strings (violin, viola, cello), but there are also plucked strings (guitar, mandolin) and some auxiliary percussion to support the overall dynamic of the group. Whatever the case, these are all real, live instruments. Unlike the individual SAV albums, which would include some synth instruments (as well as vocal performance), this album focuses on a very narrow range of instrumentation.
If I were asked how to describe the musical genres/styles presented, I'd say it's an even mix of soft (but not smooth) jazz, as well as the sort of new age arrangements that Falcom fans might remember from Fujisawa-san (the "Preprimer" albums). The Japanese refer to this style of music as "healing" music, and I think it's a fitting moniker. This music doesn't just relax the listener; there's something powerful in these arrangements. And, whatever you may think of this genre, these 13 tracks are anything but boring.
Hibino and the performers of this album show true musicianship on this album; and sadly, in the last few years, we haven't seen enough of this in VGM arrangements. But it's obvious on this album. Meticulous detail was put into each arrangement. The pay-off is easily heard. Just listen to the audio samples. Every song is intriguing, holding a firm root in the original compositions, but branching out just enough to truly be called an "arrangement." There is a bit of improvisation in each song, but the majority of the album was arranged note-for-note by Hibino-san. I am just amazed by this work.
In 2008, I have seen two amazing arranged albums so far. One is Yoko Shimomura's "drammatica," and this is the other one. Which is better? If only for the size of the performing group, drammatica wins, but there hasn't been an album of this type in years, and it's about time we got one. And with word from Hibino that there may be an album like this coming out for Koshiro's classic work "Actraiser," I'd say the Koshiro/Hibino collaborations are the best thing to hit the VGM scene in years. If you liked the Falcom "Perfect Collections" and "Super Arrange Versions" of before, and/or you're a big Yuzo Koshiro fan, and/or you loved Hibino's past work (Metal Gear Solid, Zone of the Enders), this album is a must-have.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann