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Mario & Zelda Big Band Live CD :: Review by Chris

Mario & Zelda Big Band Live CD Album Title: Mario & Zelda Big Band Live CD
Record Label: Scitron Digital Contents
Catalog No.: SCDC-00315
Release Date: December 10, 2003
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


On September 14, 2003, Nintendo hosted the Mario & Zelda Big Band Live at the Nihon Seinenkan Hall in Tokyo. It featured performances of Mario and Zelda favourites arranged for big band, acoustic ensembles, and soloists in jazz, latin, bluegrass, and other styles. It also featured talk sessions between host Ashura Benimaru Ito and Nintendo favourites such as Koji Kondo, Kazumi Totaka, and Shigeru Miyamoto. The concert was recorded both for a commercially available CD release and a bonus DVD release included with Nintendo Dream Vol. 101. The CD release provides a complete recording of this wonderful tribute to the two series and is probably the preferred item for Westeners.


The album opens with a guitar performance of the Super Mario Bros. main theme. The arrangement effectively presents the main melody while giving it a rustic edge on the semi-acoustic. The performance by Nintendo artist and show host Ashura Benimaru Ito is enjoyable and even inspires the audience to clap along. The first section of the recording is dedicated one of the two main ensembles of the evening, the Big Band of Rouges (akathe Tokyo Cuban Boys Jr.). The trumpet and saxophone sections open the performance by performing the "Super Mario 64 Opening Theme" in unison. While this should have enpowering, the sections suffer from major intonation problems and the effect is even more blaring than expected. Fortunately, their subsequent performance of the game's main theme is much better; the Latin vibe really suits the series and the alto saxophone lead brings all the lyricism out of the main melody. It's a pretty straightforward playthrough, but things are get vibrant with the trumpet punctuations, saxophone solos, and percussion breaks. The CD recording is recommended above the DVD, since it spares fans the suffering of watching the cringe-worthy band leader dance throughout the theme.

The big band subsequently perform a medley of the Super Mario Bros. score arranged by Koji Kondo himself. Much of the medley focuses on the series' main theme being intersynched between the xylophone and saxophone. However, there is a nice interlude into the waltzing underwater theme and a percussive section dedicated to the underground motif. However, perhaps the major highlight are Koji Kondo's solos on the KORG synthesizer; they're nothing spectacular, but have an warmth and simplicity to them that represents the series so well. Exclusive to the CD release, the "Mario Scat Version" is a faithful interpretation of the background music used in Super Mario Sunshine's frustrating obstacle courses. Though many will enjoy it, I find the theme is a little too irritating and find it brings back many bad memories. For better or worse, it's brief with a playtime of 2:06. Subsequently listeners are offered a vocal performance of the series' main theme complete with a high-pitched girl screaming "Go! Go! Mario" and other Engrish. Once again, I find the arrangement and performance pretty crude here.

Moving away from the vocal performances, there is a jazzy interpretation of the Super Mario Bros. 3 ending theme. The tuned percussion focus recreates the naivety so inherent to the original and the soprano saxophone interpretation of the melody is beautiful. The brass intonation still would benefit from work, but is generally tolerable, and the conductor fortunately dances a little less here too. All in all, a pleasant and peaceful break on the CD. The novelty continues with a bluegrass arrangement of Yoshi's Island's "Athletic Theme" by the second ensemble of the recording, 'Yoshihiro Arita and Band'. The violin lead recreates the serenity of the original theme while the banjo, guitar, and acoustic bass backing adds some dynamism. It's quite nice all round. Subsequently Kazumi Totaka subsequent performs a xylophone interpretation of the Yoshi's Story main theme in duet with a guitarist. The arrangement is quite relaxing with its mild timbres and bossa-nova rhythms, but still manages to entertain with a few improvisation sections. This item defines the musicality of Totaka so well, though some effect is lost on the CD recording without the video.

Yoshihiro Arita's ensemble is most suited to the folky and nautical style of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. This is initially reflected with the performance of Kenta Nagata's "Title Theme", where the game's music has never sounded better. It's particularly fascinating how the themes for Medli and Makar are interweaved on violin and guitar, while the sinister sections in the central section also bring new depth to the score. However, perhaps their star performance is "Dragon Roost Island" from the same game. The stummed banjo and guitar performance inspires imagery of the rustic wind-torn island, while the violin lead offers a radiant contrast. While the arrangement and performance is superb, it is a little disappointing that the producers chose to adhere to using the ensemble in a similar way once again, when the introduction of a wind soloist could have been even more novel and emotional. The first Zelda selection is rounded off with a simple but soothing performance of "Epona's Song" above country backing. The vocalist seems a little more suited to this theme than the earlier Zelda selections. The overall effect is nostalgic, albeit a select taste.

Yoshihiro Arita and Band offer their final main performance of the event with "Delfino Plaza". It's initially uninspiring to hear the Super Mario Sunshine favourite being recounted in a formulaic bluegrass style. However, things gradually pick up with improvisations by the excellent violinist and rhythmically challenging parts in the accompaniment. The bass player even goes arco for one section. The big band return to recreate "Zora's Band" improvisation featured in Majora's Mask. This colourful jazz composition suits the band more than most previous entries and both the solo trumpeter and tenor saxophonist shine in their respective solos. More expressive entries like these are essentially for giving the concert a rich core. The band leap straight into another performance, Ocarina of Time's "Goron City". Giving the nature of the original, this one is entirely percussive during the interruptive, but is hindered by some awkward instrument choices. The composition is more enjoyable during later sections with the dirty brass and another star saxophone performance. It's followed by a mambo rendition of the series' shop theme complete with audience clapping. Though gimmicky, it's still quite catchy and the flute use is enjoyable.

The final Zelda performance is a big band medley of the music from the series. Unsurprisingly, the focus is initially placed on the title / overworld theme from the original game, to extremely nostalgic effect. However, there is bustling interpretation of the Ocarina of Time overworld theme dominated by brass and percussion. Much like the original, it charmingly calms to give a soothing twilight feel, before the boisterous coda. One of the strangest moments of the night is the subsequently festival rendition of the Super Mario Sunshine ending theme. The arrangement is quite enjoyable with its percussive focus and jubilant instrumentals. Some effect is lost without the visuals, but many will consider this a good thing since they're pretty cringe-worthy. The CD recording also features the special coda of the night, Super Mario 64's "Slider". Listeners can enjoy the three main performers of he night — Ito on guitar, the folk group, and the big band — unite for one last performance. Even Nagata, Totaka, Miyamoto, and a Mario mascot attempt to join along in the performance while the audience happily clap away. It's a good way to sum up and round off the evening in terms of atmosphere and musicality.


The Mario & Zelda Big Band Live event was a pleasant commemoration of the music for the two series. The Big Band of Rouges bring enough flair and energy to the stage to capture the essence of the Mario series and its music. The contrasting acoustic band are well-adapted to the more scenic pieces from the franchises, particularly those from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. There are also a number of noteworthy solo instrumentalists and vocalists throughout the show, from these bands and otherwise, that offer some of the highlights. In addition to mostly strong performances, the arrangements stand out for maintaining the melodic flair of the originals, yet presenting them in a fresh and dynamic way. There's undoubtedly a good quantity of offerings as well — some 18 items, all of them fan favourites — thus amounting to a two hour event. The CD recording doesn't quite capture the atmosphere of the night as well as the DVD, but at least is complete, free from interruptions by talk shows, and rarely cringe-worthy. The video is certainly worthwhile watching for novelty value, but the album release is likely to be the more musically fulfilling experience in the long-term.

Overall Score: 8/10