Sean Schafianski has been producing some incredible arranged content in the past few years, including some jazz albums for the first NieR title. With this album, Sean began a line of new “Chamber Works” arrange albums. I noted in my review of the NieR Orchestra Box that the most interesting bit of that whole set was the bonus third disc, which featured smaller chamber arrangements as opposed to the full orchestra of the other two discs. It was not long after I wrote those words that Schafianski released this album. Of course, he wasn’t responding to my preferences, as he had been arranging and recording these pieces for months in advance. But, it seems Schafianski was aware that smaller groupings of instrumentation performed by top-tier musicians may have even greater emotional impact than the full orchestral experience. I, of course, think that’s exactly the case.
Given that Schafianski is more than merely competent as an arranger, the only other thing he needed to ensure a solid Chamber Works album was a great set of performers. Given the tight-knit networking we’ve seen among the Western indie scene in the past decade, it will not surprise you to learn that Schafianski had plenty of opportunities to make something brilliant. And in making this album, Sean also offers great variation in instrumentation: not just in actual instruments, but also variation compared to expectations. For example, “Vague Hope” is performed by the Videri String Quartet. That song definitely works for string quartet. “Copied City”, in contrast, starts with the expected piano and strings but evolves to include tenor saxophone (by insaneintherainmusic), bass clarinet (Gregory Orosz), and a host of auxiliary percussion (by my own personal hero, Doug Perry). Introducing low woodwinds to this piece in place of either electronic bass or heavily relying on the low range of the piano was absolutely unexpected, and the best part about it is that it works. Like, it works so well that it almost makes me angry that I wouldn’t have thought of it. Kudos, Sean!
There are some other great individuals and groups performing throughout this album as well. For example, the wildly bright opener “Emil’s Shop” is performed by The Game Brass, a crew led by composer/arranger John Robert Matz. On “Mourning,” a second string quartet (ETHEReal String Orchestra) does some really interesting work with the source material. And then there is “Pascal,” probably one of the most impressive arrangements on the entire album. I say this because I simply could not imagine this song working without the children’s choir/chant work that everyone remembers about this one. In its place, Schafianski goes with a full percussion ensemble: Dean Nguyen handling xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, and glockenspiel! For rhythmic percussion, Pierre-Louis de La Soudière rocks the boxy goodness that is the Cajon. While I would have liked to see Doug Perry on this one as well, there is no denying that the arrangement and performance on Pascal is a wonder to behold.
Though the album may appear short, it is in fact only a few minutes shorter than the Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross orchestra albums that Square Enix released in 2019. As for the price point, it’s hard to sufficiently explain what a great deal you’re getting! For $1 per track, or $7 total, you can pick this album up at a variety of digital outlets, including Bandcamp. There is also a limited-edition CD version you can pick up exclusively from Bandcamp for only $15! After first purchasing digitally, I re-purchased the album in physical form because I simply had to have it in my NieR music collection. I recommend it to all NieR: Automata fans without hesitation, and I most certainly look forward to whatever Sean Schafianski does next in his “Chamber Works” series.