When I heard there was a jazz album of Nier’s OST, I knew I needed to grab it. The original material is amazing, and it’s great to see how Keiichi Okabe’s work inspires others to reimagine tracks. I had some high expectations for Sean Schafianski’s arrangements, some of which were exceeded while others fell a little short. However, there are enough solid elements to make this album worth picking up and enjoying.
The album is divided in half, containing three instrumental pieces and three vocal pieces. I love how the tracks don’t pigeonhole themselves to a particular sound; there’s no sense of redundancy in style since each song goes with a different feel and foreground instrument or vocal. This is a strong point for the album because it not only shows the versatility in composition but also keeps the listener engaged to anticipate what’s coming next.
“Sunshower” is an almost hit for me. The piano, bass, and percussion do a wonderful job setting up the lounge-y background, but my issue comes with the keyboard that’s front and center. It feels too chaotic at times and keeps me from fully enjoying the piece. At times as I listened, I wanted a trumpet to come in and push it out of the limelight. Then I got my wish with “Pale Moonlight.” Although I still had some issues with the keyboard offering too much discord, the trumpet is absolutely marvelous, and the track strikes a great balance of relaxation and vitality by keeping the listener fully engaged in the piece but at ease. “Nightengale” is probably my least favorite track. Stylistically, I like the use of violins and juxtaposing them with the keyboard, but the beat dragged too slowly for me to find it enjoyable.
It wasn’t until “Memories” that I found what I was dreaming for in a Nier Jazz arrangement. The percussion and piano keep the pace lively while the vocals from “Song of the Ancients/Devola” keep the song smooth; it’s wonderfully executed and the highlight of the album. Once the soprano saxophone takes over from the vocals, it’s absolutely beautiful. All of the elements come into place for this track, and “A Heart not Forgotten” keeps that trend going. Once again, the choice to incorporate vocals from “Emil/Karma” is a spectacular move, and the track boasts an amazing solo from a dancing clarinet. Although I enjoy “Steam Powered Trouble,” I don’t feel it meets the same level as the previous two tracks. Wonderful guitar solo aside, the track is based off of “Age of Automatons,” which is one of my favorites, and I feel Schafianski could have done more with it.
I greatly enjoyed the direction this album takes. The tracks give a fresh spin on some great pieces of video game music and keep the spirit of Nier alive and well. I’m exceedingly glad that Schafianski decided to tackle this project and continue on with a volume 2, because it is all very well arranged and leaves the listener desiring more. Although there are times when I find the tracks to lack luster, there are more times when it shines and shines well. If you already love the Nier soundtrack and have a penchant for jazz, you’ll find something to really appreciate in this album.