Mami Horie holds a special place in my heart. She was one of the first vocalists to work on the Atelier series. And while she hadn’t done much work on the series in some time, it’s not like she forgot, or that Gust forgot her. This whole album is a collection of vocal tracks from the Atelier series, redone in a lounge/jazz style, with Mami Horie singing (sometimes with entirely new lyrics, including new English lyrics!).
The album opens with the title track, Cadena, from the latest Atelier title (A13, Atelier Meruru). It’s actually one of my least favorite tracks on the album, but it does set the tone for what to expect, genre-wise. Brush sticks on the trap set, lots of piano, a little bit of winds and brass to accompany, and Ms. Horie’s beautiful voice (if a little “Engrish”-y). She does a great job with the next two tracks, however. Elle Gramnad (from Judie) never sounded better, and the oldschool track from Marie is fantastic. I love having the English lyrics. Paraphrased, it’s basically: when you can’t sleep at night, put the picture book under your pillow and when you sleep you’ll have awesome dreams. The upbeat syncopated rhythm and the improvised piano make the track so much better than the bland original version from decades past.
“Pilgrimage” features vibrophones. So, right there, it’s an instant winner. The vibes don’t dominate, but they decorate and blend nicely with the rest of the band. Horie’s part has her singing some Japanese and some English. She weaves in and out of the two languages with ease. Fans of the original song (from Totori) will enjoy this version too. It’s a nice refreshing alternative.
Next up is “Little Crown,” another track from Meruru. “Bossa Samba” is indeed the particular jazz style, and that nice straight beat and the elegant acoustic guitar just sounds great. There are little dips in the song where you can hear a phrygian modal scale (it’s like a minor scale, but the second note in the scale is also flat). It adds that perfect Mediterranean touch to the piece.
This next one I wasn’t expecting at all, nor was I expecting it to work when I found out it was included. The opening theme to Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~, “Midnight Illusion” is a chanty, ethnic, not-at-all-jazzy sort of piece. This album’s style, not to mention Horie’s voice, just seemed antithetical to the whole soundscape as I remembered it. But, somehow, this “European Jazz” version works very well. Maybe it’s the jazz flute. Maybe it’s because they kept the chants intact. I don’t know… whatever it is, I’m pleased with the end result.
“Sail,” on the other hand, I could live without. I wasn’t a huge fan of it on Mana Khemia 2, and the jazz style the have for it, ’80 R&B Taste, has got to be the most disgusting, schmaltzy, kitsch sound ever. I cannot bring myself to enjoy the R&B sound with a Japanese vocalist. There’s no soul here. It’s just goofy.
The next two tracks would have been impossible to screw up. “Lorelei” (from Iris 3) and “Dia” (from Totori) are beautiful songs with a soaring refrain and plenty of room for improvisation. As a result, Horie-san’s jazz vocals do not at all detract from the music. I could’ve lived without these versions, sure, but I’m not at all offended by the sound of them either. Lorelei, especially, sounds good no matter how you slice it.
For the final 3 tracks, we get all Arland tracks: opening and ending tracks from Rorona, with a track from Meruru sandwiched between. “Falling, The Star Light” works in the same way “Midnight Illusion” does, mainly because Horie’s layered chant vocals work so well. Again, I found this to be a surprise, but now that I know it works, I’m happy to see her apply it anywhere and everywhere. At the end, they add this great “la la” singing part with hand-claps and finger-snaps … has a very Paul Simon “Graceland” feel to it. I’m into it.
Unfortunately, I’m not into the other two tracks. Metro just bores me, in all forms. As for Mysterious Recipe… well, they killed the song. The English lyrics come out absolutely Engrish-butchered, and the lyrics themselves are painfully cheesy. If they’re an accurate translation of the Japanese song, then all I can say is that ignorance is bliss, and I wish I didn’t know the words. Also, they totally cut out the “na na / la la” part from the original version of the song. Everything good about the original version is replaced by bad.
So … from my completely subjective viewpoint, the album is a mixed bag. There is stuff I love about it, and also stuff I can’t stand. But speaking more objectively, I think it’s fair to say that there are so many other Atelier series albums worth owning before this one that this album becomes a hard sell. It doesn’t help that Mami Horie’s voice is something of an acquired taste for most listeners, with that deep, throaty jazz sound. It’s not typical for Japanese singers, and while I’m not disparaging it per se or discouraging listeners from giving her work a listen, the fact remains that it’s somewhat awkward with the Japanese language, and her lack of mastery with the English language doesn’t help matters. I’ll give the album a tepid endorsement, but I don’t think anyone should rush out to buy it. I also don’t have much hope for the upcoming volume, but we’ll see.