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Doujin, Featured, Game Music

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Shining Gems: JADE-II Live Report

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Photos by comdoc5964

Last weekend, JADE-II finally took place after weeks of preparation and dedication, offering a night of retro game music festivities from a little corner in Shibuya, at TAKE OFF 7 bar. The event was created by Kunimoto Takeaki, one of the true father figures of game music with his classic soundtracks Milon’s Secret Castle and Robowarrior. With his passion always focused on spreading the joy of video game melodies, he often wrote lyrics featured in the game manuals and composed music that was accessible for young people to figure out on instruments of their own. His passion is still as strong as ever, and he is now dedicated to performing both his own and other famous works as part of Take-chan & Ken-chan along with Ken Matsuzawa, a piano sensation on youtube and Nintendo aficionado.

JADE-I took place on 26th of March at BUNGAJAN in Asakusabashi, and proved to be a success. So Kunimoto started plans to continue the name with another event, JADE-II. For this event, several new names were added to the lineup. Nekketsu High School Brass Band, a young upstart woodwind and brass performance group performing classic Famicom soundtracks. Kunimoto’s Take-chan & Ken-chan band, with guest vocalist AKIRA hagiwara and guitarist Tendo, and last the extremely popular variety performer Professor Sakamoto. To a sold out crowd, JADE-II took place on 22nd October.

Read our report after the jump!

First band of the night was the more obscure Nekketsu Koukou Suisougaku-Bu, their name obviously inspired by the long running Kunio-kun series. Despite their obscurity compared to the other names on the set list of the night, they certainly managed to keep up with the best of them and impress the entire crowd with their clever set up and execution. Replicating the NES channels between the band members, the music came to life in a new original way with impeccable timing between the members, clearly comfortable with one another’s tempo. Their tracklist of the night consisted of many fan favorites, such as Gradius, Double Dragon, Super Mario Bros., Chrono Trigger, Milon Secret’s Castle along with the Japanese exclusive Mahjong Famicom and a Hudson Soft Medley featuring Star Force, Star Soldier and Hector 87 (all these along with Milon are composed by Kunimoto).

The highlight of their set was Milon’s Secret Castle, which made use of some clever stage antics, having the band members fall asleep and one by one wake up and play their channel, growing into the full melody before song’s end. Nekketsu High School Brass Band left a strong impression, and will definitely be paid attention to from now on due to their strong performance.

Second act of the night, Take-chan & Ken-chan featuring the very popular Famicom-Guitar arrangement artist, Tendo. Takeaki Kunimoto is a skilled jazz bassist, and along with Ken Matsuzawa he has released a CD and done prior live shows where their arrangements usually are of comedic pop or jazz nature. Now their sound would be extented with the help of Tendo, who made his live show debut on this night. After a short video introduction using the style of Kato-chan & Ken-chan from the PC Engine, which Kunimoto composed and the band takes their general comedic tone from, they began their set with a jazz arrange, before kicking into an all new pop rock arrange of the above mentioned game, showcasing the new rock flavored sound to the band. Early on, Tendo’s fantastic guitar tone and preciseness became apparent, and his playing is studio clean even in a live setting. Some of the more complicated synth work was prerecorded and mixed by Matsuzawa, though he played along for the most part of the song without as much as an error. After Kato-chan & Ken-chan, a rock arrange of Star Soldier with emphasis on Kunimoto’s great bass solos impressed the crowd.

Formally introducing the band over the live mic, Kunimoto would touch on a very sensitive and personal subject for him, remembering his late friend Ryu Umemoto. Speaking of their friendship, Kunimoto was visibly emotional, taking to tears and struggling to find his words, making the next song of the night all the more powerful, Akai Katana.

Again, some of the more complicated synths were pre-recorded, with Matsuzawa backing the band with ambiant synth, while Tendo guitar lead was absolutely jawdropping, perfectly emulating Umemoto’s G-Rock sound and showing no signs of trouble despite some of the complexities in the source. For fans of Umemoto’s Akai Katana soundtrack, this arrangement was a dream come true. The drummer of the night, Ryo, a former drummer for momo-i (Momoi Haruka), was also highly impressive in his intensity during this song.

For the next section of the set, Kunimoto and Tendo took to the back to allow Matsuzawa to tune his synth while playing Challenger and to invite Sakiyama-san up to the stage for a short set of NESBAND action. NESBAND has become widely popular on the internet, and Matsuzawa noted that on NicoNico Douga, it had ranked no.3 on game related videos. NESBAND originally a 4 piece band that plug their synthesizers into a live running Famicom and manage to use the sound driver to replicate the sounds from the game and performing all the channels live. With though they were only 2 on this occassion, their rendition of Dragon Quest was flawless in execution, much to the delight of the crowd who were eager to see NESBAND in action.

Kunimoto took stage again, wearing the Milon’s pajama hat, signaling it was time for Milon’s Secret Castle, and used a playful Pianica along with Matzusawa’s piano, before taking to his bass yet again for a jazz arrange introducing each member back on stage. Tendo made use of a acoustic guitar and performed a spotless blues solo. Another guest took place on stage as the song came to an end, AKIRA hagiwara.

Next in the Milon suite, the lullaby based on the main theme, sung softly by AKIRA. She is always able to show a bit of diversity in her voice rather than relying on the high pitched standard, and focuses on more softness. A bit of a struggle in hitting the higher notes during the first refrain, but as her voice warmed up, AKIRA showed great presence and charm in her voice. After the Milon suite had concluded, a treat for fans, an all new original song composed by Kunimoto! The cheerful “Yozora no Hoshi to Kimi to Boku to” (You, Me And The Starry Sky) is a pop song with tons of charm, with Tendo masterfully providing some catchy riffs without a hitch. Hopefully this song will appear on a future CD.

Bomber King (Robowarrior in the West) has become something of a theme for Kunimoto, being he most well known piece he wrote for Hudson in the mid 80′s. The main theme became popularized due to lyrics being printed in the manual, inspiring gamers to sing along. SEGA would later print lyrics in the manual of their game ALEX KIDD in Miracle World as a homage to Kunimoto. For JADE-II, the song was rearranged into an all out rock epica featuring AKIRA on the vocals and Ken Matsuzawa stretching his instrument range by joining on rhythm guitar. AKIRA’s voice proves to be a bit too much of a contrast to the fast heavy metal style arrange, though along with Kunimoto and Matsuzawa, she provides a great chemistry and manages again to find her place as the song progresses. Tendo’s solo as expected was nothing short of incredible with no chord wasted. After the breakdown, a short jazz medley with AKIRA on Pianica closes the show to massive applause.

With an all new unexpected extended rock sound, Take-chan & Ken-chan sounded better than ever, with Tendo complimenting the band effortlessly. It is hopefully not the last time Tendo will be seen on stage with the band, as he is more than welcome back in fans’ hearts.

Last act of the night is the legend himself, the amazing creator and mysterious performer, Professor Sakamoto. Sakamoto is not so much a concert artist as he is a variety stand up show with music, including the crowd into every step of his act. On his head, a Famicom sits ready to be plugged, and fans in the crowd are more than eager to put their favorite game in for Sakamoto to play thanks to the Famicom sending signals to his brain. What is incredible with Sakamoto is how fast he is, on the microphone or on the piano, every thing is with ease and full of showmanship, which is to be expected from a man wearing a cape, uniform and mask with a Famicom attached to his head. Similar to NESBAND, his performances are more straight forward reproductions during the first act of his show, though Sakamoto incorporates a lot characteristics found in those games to his performance, like playing the death jingle from Spelunker 3 seconds into the main theme or dealing pieces in Mahjong. During the “March theme” from Dragon Quest 4, the professor turned his back to the crowd, performing the whole song with his hands behind his back, without any mistakes.

It was during the request sections that Sakamoto showed his arrangement skills by performing Chrono Trigger, Lord of Vermillion and MOTHER. With little preparation nor hesitation, Sakamoto was screamed at from all angles, people eager to hear anything from Mega Man to Twinbee, and with enthusiasm he would take to his piano and arrange his requests, improvising several sections. As the night came to an end, all performers returned for a collective performance of “Eight Melodies” from MOTHER, sending the fans home happy.

To a sell out crowd and with all new arrangements and sides to the bands, JADE-II can only be described as a total success and great achievement for all the bands. From a little corner in Shibuya, the music was heard quite far with their live broadcast, and with the success JADE-III will take place on the 10th of December, this time with NESBAND headlining. Be sure to check back for a report on JADE-III!

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