Okami, a game whose soundtrack utilizes traditional Japanese instruments, may not seem like the most obvious candidate for a jazz album, but that shouldn’t stop you from listening to this fantastic selection of pieces.
The album starts off running with one of the most iconic tracks from the game, “Rising Sun.” You’ll immediately know you’re in jazz land when the saxophone, piano, and snazzy percussion create an upbeat fusion that honors the source material while at the same time keeping things fresh and interesting. Indeed, one of the things I like the most about this album is how I can clearly hear the original theme in the arrangements and yet the stylistic choices — such as instrumentation, beat, and improvisation — really transform almost every piece into something new.
For instance, my absolute favorite track on the album is “Ryoshima Plains.” The original piece had a relentless pace to it, aided by thunderous drums at times, but the arrangement here is much more relaxed, featuring an almost melancholy clarinet and a lilting piano solo. Similarly, the catchy beat and high flying flute in “Kushinada’s Ride” makes the piece sound more cheerful than the original, which was dramatic and played during times of crisis in the game.
Apart from the obvious must-haves like the theme song, “Reset,” there are some interesting choices in the tracklist. I was surprised to hear “Shachi Maru’s” and “Tsuzurao’s Themes,” although the latter is a perfect fit for the album since its sultry melody is already pretty jazzy. I also wasn’t expecting battle themes to be covered, but “Waka’s Promenade~Playing with Waka” in particular is a great reminder that jazz and combat music work very well together.
By far the biggest surprise, though, is “A Great Monster Lies in Wait,” which is perhaps the most traditional piece on the original soundtrack. I was actually just the slightest bit disappointed by how closely this arrangement follows the original, but it does serve as an excellent interlude and palate cleanser simply because of how starkly it differs from everything else on the album.
This is important because the album is pretty saxophone heavy. Of course, it would hardly be a jazz album without some sax, but it can get a little tiresome to hear the same instrument carrying the main melody track after track. I appreciated the tracks that gave the spotlight to another equally jazzy instrument.
For fans of Okami, this album is a no-brainer. I myself was hooked in less than a minute. Even for those not familiar with Okami’s music — a situation that should be rectified immediately — the smooth jazz on this album is definitely worth a listen for its own sake.