Video Game Jazz Music at The Runaway Five's First All Ages Show

Driving, funky jazz versions of video game music were on tap when The Runaway Five performed in concert in Calgary, Alberta at the National Musical Centre Saturday, April 6, 2013. It was the jazz group's first "all ages" show.

This concert featured Johnny Summers on trumpet and flugelhorn, Shane Statz on tenor sax, Sheldon Zandboer on piano, Brendan McElroy on bass and Karl Schwonik on drums. It was the group's first performance in a quintet configuration.

Jazz Arrangements of Classic Video Game Themes Played by the Runaway Five

The quintet opened the first half with two songs from the SNES game Earthbound (AKA "MOTHER 1+2"): "Sound Stone" and "Threed". This particular arrangement of the "Sound Stone" melody was quite lively, complete with stride piano. It featured solos by Shane, Johnny and and Sheldon.

In contrast, "Threed" was a laid back bossa nova. One of the neat moments in this arrangement was the transition between the flugelhorn and tenor sax solos. There was a lovely dialogue between the two instruments, which weaved and bobbed like someone floating aimlessly in the pool or ocean. I could have sworn I heard a "quote" from "Rainy Days and Mondays" by The Carpenters for a fraction of a second.

Next game on the set list was SimCity 3000, which is known for its jazz and new age soundtrack. "Updown Town" was a toe-tapping medium upswing. The trumpet solo began in the lower registered with shots that gradually led the listeners higher and higher. This was followed by an extremely chromatic piano solo, complete with rapid-fire blues riffs and shakes. After a very catchy vamp, the tenor sax solo gradually built up higher and higher, like a skyscraper.

"Into the Darkness" from Final Fantasy IV was a lazy jazz waltz. The ensemble played upon the rhythmic ostinato from the introduction, working it into their solos. The flugelhorn solo was soft and mournful. In contrast, the tenor sax rose and fell like waves. The piano solo had punchy riffs and crunchy chords, while the bass solo played upon the theme, leading the audience deeper and deeper, lower and lower into blackness.

Another highlight from the first set was "Love Song" from BioWare's Dragon AgeThis slow jazz waltz featured a beautiful duet between the flugelhorn and tenor sax. The sax solo began simply, who lush long tones, but the rhythm grew in complexity, building the tension. In contrast, the piano solo featured tender chords that rose and fell like a sigh. It too gradually grew in intensity with crunchier harmonies. The gradual deconstruction of the theme was a neat effect, just before leading the audience back to the head.

Three more video game themes were performed in the first set. "Buy Something Will Ya" (Earthbound) was a moderate swing number. "Zelda's Lullaby" (Zelda), which showcased the flugelhorn and piano. The Runaway Five closed the first set with the "Overworld Theme" from Super Mario Bros 2.

Soul Jazz, Ragtime and Swing Video Game Music in The Runaway Five's All Ages Concert

The Runaway Five did their best to make the audience forget the miserable weather outside with "Koopa Troopa Beach" from Super Mario Kart 64. Was I the only one pretending to drive my Mario Kart around the beach during the performance? I hope not.

The tenor sax solo was wavy, with splashes up into the higher register. The  flugelhorn solo kept the mood high and bright, not just with playing in the higher register, but with the introduction of a different rhythm. The piano took that rhythm and changed it even more. When the head returned to lead us back to the finish line, it was a nostalgic moment.

Another highlight from the second half of the show was "Muscle Soul" from Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam (Hill 137). This isn't a game I'd normally play, so hearing this theme was my introduction to the music of Anders Lewen.

This number opened with the bass and drums vamping on that opening riff until one by one, the rest of the company stepped in. The trumpet solo traversed a wide range, like a unit marching to their next mission. The sax solo was as soulful as the original recording. The piano solo had a little Motown, a little funk and a hint of disco.

The Runaway Five closed the show with "Air Platform - The Athletic Rag" from Super Mario World. The quintet had fun playing around with the two main themes from this classic video game. The trumpet solo used the A theme as a springboard to new riffs.

The tenor sax took the last rhythms played by the trumpet and then improvised on the B theme, then back to the A theme before tossing it to the piano, where we heard a chromatic treatment of the B theme, complete with zippy runs. The drum solo was playful, exploring different rhythmic and timbre combinations.

Three more VG themes were featured in the second set, including the "Figaro Castle Theme" from Final Fantasy III (VI), "Green Hill Zone" from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 opened with the drums and music from Street Fighter.

About The Runaway Five

Founded by Brendan McElroy, the Runaway Five performs jazz music arrangements of classic video games, including Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy and Zelda. In 2008 and 2009, the group performed at Massey Hall in Toronto during the Video Games Live tour. The ensemble members change, increasing or decreasing depending upon the needs of the show.

The Runaway Five performed an intimate concert open to all ages on Saturday, April 6, 2013 at the National Music Centre. The interplay between the musicians was a delight to hear, while the themes left the audience feeling nostalgic about games past and present.

If you missed the show, you can check out some of group's earlier performances on their Youtube Channel. The Runaway Five will perform later this year. Details to follow.

Pia no Jac First Contact Album Review

→Pia no Jac←from Osaka, Japan, present a driving fusion of jazz, rock and J-pop on this This piano-cajón duo's debut album.

→Pia no Jac←was founded in 2005 by pianist Hayato Tatsunari and percussionist Tadahiro “Hiro” Moritomi. The band name is a combination of Hayato and Hiro's instruments: “piano” and “cajón”.

In the early days, the pair performed everywhere from footbridges and shopping malls to ballet classes and night clubs. The duo has since performed in France, Thailand and Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

This jazz group's music is a jazz fusion that incorporates J-pop, Jazz, Rock and Classical. Hayato and Hiro describe their music as “hybrid instrumental” and they seek to entertain audiences with their technical ability, showmanship and humor shine through.

→Pia no Jac← has worked with several heavy hitters in the Japanese entertainment industry, including commercial creator, Michihiko Yanai, composer/director Joe Hisaishi, ARASHI and SQUARE ENIX. The duo have released nine albums to date.

First Contact Highlights

The opening track, “Suite Quote-unquote” is a fast-paced number that showcases the music duo's hybrid style. The opening theme is sounds like a piano exercise performed at a breakneck tempo, but when combined with a frenetic groove on the cajón, it becomes something different. It then switches from a Latin flavor to a bit of swing.

"Floral Heartstring (Canon)" (Track 4) is a sweet number. The piece is Baroque in form (canon), while the melody is romantic in nature. The cajón is very subtle, allowing the dreamy melody to soar throughout on the piano.

The final track, “Jack” brings the album to a dramatic close. It's an aggressive blend of boogie and rock. The piano has several boogie and blues licks, containing equal doses of syncopated rhythms and rapid chromatic runs. Rock and combined with a driving galloping groove resound on the cajón.

First Contact is fun album with catchy tracks that showcase this music duo's “hybrid instrumental” style. One word of advice from one listener to another: If you tend to have a lead foot on the gas pedal, do not drive while listening to the fast numbers on this album (or any →Pia no Jac← album, for that matter). This album is bound to raise any listener's energy level.

First Contact Track Listing

  1. Suite Quote-unquote
  2. Erosion
  3. Run Rabbit Run
  4. Floral Heartstring (Canon)
  5. blue moon
  6. Jack
  7. BONUS: First Contact  contains the video clip of 組曲『 』(Kumikyoku)

Produced by: Keiichi Kato

Label: Shinko Music Records, 2008

Check out Pia no Jac's music at CD Japan by clicking the icon below:

First Contact / Pia-no-jaC

Pia no Jac Website

Pia no Jac on Twitter

(c) 2012 by Rhona-Mae Arca, Musespeak(TM). All rights reserved. 

Concert Review of CJO's An Evening of Romance

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra performed a selection of popular love songs made famous by Billie Holiday and Chet Baker on Sunday, February 12, 2012 at River Park Church. Calgary vocalists Johanna Sillanpaa and Johnny Summers heated up the stage with their sultry vocals.

The E.P. Scarlett Big Band kicked things off with “Happy Go Lucky Local” (Duke Ellington), an medium swing number. This was followed by a funky number called “There's the Rub” (Gordon Goodwin). The E.P. Scarlett Big Band of Calgary is directed by Jonathan Bell.

Johanna Sillanpaa and Torch Songs Featured in CJO's Opening Set



Calgary vocalist Johanna Sillanpaa sings with the Calgary Jazz Orchestra. Photo by R-M Arca.

During his patter, director Johnny Summers, explained the inspiration for the change. Last month, the CJO had the opportunity to work with Grammy winning musician Maria Schneider. These arrangements are the first to bear the fruits of their time with Schneider. “We're just scratching the surface,” said Summers. “Stay tuned. It's gonna get crazy up here!”The CJO with two arrangements for small jazz combos. The group welcomed guest artist Johanna Sillanpaa of Calgary to the stage to bring some of Billie Holiday's memorable love songs to life. “My Man” (M. Yvain) featured Gerry Hebert on clarinet, Al Muirhead on trumpet, Sarah Matheson on bari sax and Willy Joosen on the piano. “Crazy He Calls Me” (C. Sigman), a sultry love ballad, featured  Jeremy Brown on sax, Johnny Summers on trumpet, Willy Joosen on piano, Kodi Hutchinson on bass and Greg Baker on drums. The other members of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra came on-stage for the remainder of the first set. From the opening bar of F. Andre's “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, it was apparent that something was different. The group got in to the music a little more, while the solos by Al Muirhead and Jeremy Brown were melodious and featured new licks. This number gave Sillanpaa a chance to showcase her rich, warm low register. The Brahms' “Lullaby” quote at the end was a nice touch.

“He's Funny that Way” by R. Whitting and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” by H. Wood rounded out  the first half. Whether singing in a small combo or with the entire jazz band, Johanna Sillanpaa's strong and sultry voice projected clearly, seemingly without effort.

Billie Holiday and Chet Baker Love Songs and Surprise Guest Raffi in CJO's Second Set

The second half of “An Evening of Romance” also featured small combo arrangements before moving on to big band music. “You Go to My Head” by F. Coots, a soulful love ballad, featured Shane Statz on tenor sax, Kodi Hutchinson on bass and the vocals of Johnny Summers.

Raffi and CJO (Photo by R-M Arca)

Children's entertainer Raffi surprised the audience when he stepped up from the audience to sing “A Wonderful World”. Chuckles and cheers resounded when he sang “I see friends shaking hands, saying, 'Yo what's up?” Raffi did a quick plug for a cause close to his heart, the Centre for Child Honouring.

A nice trumpet solo opened “Let's Get Lost” (J. McHugh) before switching off to saxophone. This medium swing number featured soulful solos by Al Muirhead, Shane Statz and Willy Joosen, along with the vocal styling Johnny Summers.

The programme drew to a close with the sexiest version of “My Funny Valentine” that I have ever heard. The very sultry introduction featured Willy Joosen on piano and Al Muirhead on flugelhorn and Greg Baker using softer mallets on percussion.  One could imagine smoke wafting through a jazz club on a hot summer's night during Al Muirhead's solo.

Three more numbers rounded out the second half: “You'd Be So Nice” (Cole Porter), “The More I See You” (H. Warren) and “Isn't It Romantic” (R. Rodgers).

About the Calgary Jazz Orchestra

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra is a 17 piece big band founded by Johnny Summers in 2004. Arrangements for “An Evening of Romance” were written by Johnny Summers and Greg Baker.

The fresh arrangements and easygoing demeanour of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra members at “An Evening of Romance” left me with two impressions: 1 – I must buy some music by Maria Schneider and 2 – I can't wait to hear what the CJO is going to do next.

In September, the CJO presented a concert featuring swing, Latin and Cuban music. In December, the big band performed Christmas hits made famous by Frank Sinatra.

Jazz lovers will have two more opportunities to hear the Calgary Jazz Orchestra in the 2011/12 season. On February 25, 2012, the CJO will perform at 18 Degrees of Jazz. Proceeds from this fundraiser go to benefit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area. Blues tunes and numbers written by CJO members will be featured at the May 6, 2012 concert.  You can buy concert tickets on the Calgary Jazz Orchestra website.

(c) Rhona-Mae Arca, Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB. All rights reserved.

Product Review: FitBall Wedge

Originally written for in November 2010. Another one that didn't survive "The  Big Purge"
Do you suffer from back pain or poor posture? Sway, wiggle and squirm your way to correct posture and pain relief with the FitBall Wedge.
On December 11, 2009, Fox News reported that a study conducted by the Institute for Medicine and Public Health found that people spend an average of 56 hours a week sitting. In "That's the Way the Ball Bounces!" from Working Well, it states that the average American spends 14 hours a day sitting.
Even more alarming is the conclusion Genevieve Healy, Ph.D. from at the Cancer Prevention Research Centre after a conducting a study at the University of Queensland in Australia. She reports that not even 30 minutes a day at the gym can counteract the effects of sitting for eight, nine, or 10 hours a day.
Active sitting can relieve pain and fosters overall health. It is also known as "unsupported seating" and "sitting in motion." Active sitting encourages the body to move and adjust constantly. It also encourages the body to sit in a more natural position.
There are numerous benefits to active sitting, as stated by Fitterfirst, a supplier of active sitting devices:
  • improved core fitness: Continuous movement to re-stabilize your torso strengthens your spinal and abdominal muscles.
  • burn calories: You can burn up to 350 calories a day from active sitting.
  • improved balance: Active sitting is a form of balance training.
  • fosters natural body posture and alignment.
  • maintains blood flow. 

What is the FitBall Wedge?

  The FitBall Wedge is an active dynamic seating device. It is an 13" inflatable wedge made of PVC. One side is smooth while the other has sensory bumps. There is also a 10" FitBall Wedge Junior for children.
The FitBall Wedge can be placed on the seat of any office chair or task chair. While sitting with the FitBall Wedge, make sure that both feet are firmly on the floor. Bounce in your seat, move back and forth and from side to side to enjoy the benefits of active sitting.
Alternatively, you can place the FitBall Wedge on the back of a chair for extra lumbar support.
You can use an air mattress pump or air raft pump to inflate the FitBall Wedge. Beginners should start with more air in their FitBall Wedge until they have adjusted to active sitting.
Simply wipe down the FitBall Wedge with soap and water to clean it.
User Testing and Assessment of the FitBall Wedge
  I purchased the FitBall Wedge one week ago to encourage my piano students to sit properly at the piano and to ease my own back pain.
My students, aged five to 50+, giggled over the new cushion and its bumps. "This is fun!" was a sentiment shared by most of my students just minutes into a lesson. My three fidgety students appeared more focused during their lessons. It helped that I placed another active seating disc at their feet. Each student who used the FitBall Wedge looked more relaxed at the piano bench and sat with proper posture. I have often noticed classically-trained pianists play with stiff posture and limited range of motion. My students were forced to move with the wedge, making their playing more natural looking, ergonomic and expressive.
I found the FitBall Wedge a back-saver. Between teaching and preparing for eight performances this month, I am at the piano over 30 hours a week and then sitting in front of a computer for at least an additional 10 hours a week. My back pain disappeared within minutes of sitting on the FitBall Wedge.
There are two minor drawbacks. The FitBall Wedge is available in only one colour. I also wish it could fit more easily into a bag full of music books. However, it still is more portable than a core stability ball.

Improve your posture and reduce back pain with the FitBall Wedge active seating disc. Photo by R-M Arca.

As with any active sitting device, people with poor balance or who recently had back surgery should consult with a medical professional first prior to using the FitBall Wedge. If used improperly or with incorrect posture, the postive effects of active sitting can be nullified.
About the FitBall Wedge and Ball Dynamics International
  The FitBall Wedge is manufactured by Ball Dynamics International LLC. It was founded Joanne Posner-Mayer, P.T., an expert on therapeutic Swiss Ball applications.
For more information, read "Sitting Too Much?" by Selene Yager, Women's Health Magazine, Exercise Ball Moves to the Office and Understanding Musician Injuries.