A quick look at Sean Schafianski’s works, either as a collaborator or as lead arranger, immediately informs us that Mr. Schafianski is a thoughtful and productive musician. The projects he selects showcase some of the best in game music, and the sheer volume of work he’s completed since 2013 is impressive. One of his true triumphs is the 2013 release of NieR Gestalt & Replicant: Jazz Arrange Version. This jazzy EP—six songs using the original NieR tracks as the lattice-work for something new and interesting—has remained a favorite in my (enormous) all-things-NieR music playlist.
Thus, it should not surprise you, dear reader, that the 2014 Vol. 2 follow-up is of the same caliber. I listen to it often, as I find it a refreshing, alternative take to some of my favorite game music. If you read the above-linked review to the first volume EP from my colleague Brad, you will see that I am not alone in placing high value on Schafianski’s work. But is Vol. 2 just more of the first album, or are there some distinctions?
To be honest, the answer is the former. It would have been just as well to release both EPs as a single, longer release (totaling 12 tracks instead of separated sets of 6). Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. From lovely Fender Rhodes electric piano solos to wonderfully varied percussion, every song oozes a fun, jazzy sound. Schafianski explores the gamut of subgenres within jazz, though thankfully evading the dreaded “smooth jazz” soundscape. A few of the tracks border on pure funk, like The OneUps did on their “Intergalactic” EPs.
If I had to pick a favorite from this EP? I’m hard-pressed to do it, but I think “Old Timer,” the new arrangement of “Grandma,” is the stand-out track for me. I like every one of them, but “Grandma” was always such a serious piece, and to hear this melody let loose and taken to a more playful musical realm was surprising, enjoyable, and in no way did it diminish the value or impact of the source material. That, more than anything, may be Sean Schafianski’s greatest strength: his arrangements may be a new take on the source material, but he never allows a change in genre to lead to overarranging, negating, or devaluing the original piece or even the main melody.
A bit of friendly advice: if you bought the first Jazz Arrange Version but knew there was a second volume, now’s your chance to catch up. If you didn’t know about either of these EPs, take a listen to the samples, and if you find them appealing, maybe you’ll find yourself wanting to pick up both! Now, if only Mr. Schafianski will release a NieR: Automata Jazz Arrange Version…