Here’s Why You Need to Check Out the F-Zero Jazz Album

Considering all of the different kinds of music that gets made for albums, movies, television, etc., I think video game music might be the most overlooked and underrated. Gaming fans understand – how many times have you gone back not to replay a game, but just to listen to its music? Games like Deus Ex, Donkey Kong Country, Halo, Final Fantasy, Skyrim, F-Zero, and World of Warcraft are fine examples of games or game series with notoriously exceptional music.

If you’re a fan of hard rock and metal, and you like game music, then you’ve probably already been well-acquainted with the classic tunes from the F-Zero series. Searching for these songs on YouTube will not only provide you with the official versions, but also various cover versions, usually featuring heavy metal guitar. The style of music in F-Zero suits itself well to a kind of heavy metal musical arrangement.

But the buck doesn’t stop there. Heavy metal is fine, but what about the rest of us jazz lovers? Well there’s an entire professional album of F-Zero music arranged in a Jazz Fusion style. And if that wasn’t awesome enough, it’s an official album from Nintendo themselves, hereafter titled as F-Zero Arranged for the sake of clarity. Nintendo always has your back… unless you’re a YouTuber.

So clearly Nintendo thought that a jazz fusion F-Zero album would make sense – and they were right. It works, so well. F-Zero Arranged is undoubtedly one of my favourite albums of game music ever recorded. Just check out it’s version of “Mute City”:

Of course, much of the quality of the album consists in the composition of the tunes themselves, courtesy of their original composers – Yumiko Kanki and Naoto Ishida. They composed the original tunes for the first F-Zero on the SNES, which became mainstays of the series. Most of you will already be familiar with some of these tunes, such as “Big Blue” and “Mute City”. F-Zero Arranged takes these original tunes and their melodies and runs with them, in the classic Fusion style, extrapolating the melodies and harmonies into a wild improvisational performance. It’s a very exciting arrangement, bound to impress fans who are only familiar with the original versions of these tunes.

A Jazz Fusion album is nothing without elite session players – which F-Zero Arranged has in spades. The musicians on this album are comprised of some of the most legendary session players of all time: Alex Acuna, Marc Russo, Alphonso Johnson, Pee Wee Hill, and Robben Ford, just to name a few. To see that even one of these people was involved in F-Zero Arranged absolutely blew my mind.

Firstly, a personal favourite: Alex Acuna has got to be one of the best drummers of all time in any genre. Reviewing a list of his collaborations and session appearances is like reading a ‘who’s who’ of the greatest artists from the 70’s and 80’s. Most notably, however, Acuna is known for being the drummer for Weather Report, which is perhaps the most well-known Jazz Fusion group of all time. His performance on their legendary album, Heavy Weather, is a bonafide clinic in fusion drumming, and one of the all-time great performance benchmarks of the genre.

Amazing bassist Alphonso Johnson was also an important facet of Weather Report, playing on their hugely influential album Black Market; unfortunately his legacy as a member of that band is somewhat overshadowed by a certain other bass player – the incomparable Jaco Pastorius – but that’s an article for another day. Alphonso is an incredible bass player in his own right, and as a bass player myself, his licks and runs on the album are welcome with open arms.

Another of these session players worth mentioning is the omnipresent saxophonist Marc Russo. His list of collaborations, too, reads like a compilation album of the greatest artists from the 70’s and 80’s: Narada Michael Walden, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Steve Winwood, Tower of Power, Huey Lewis & the News, the Yellowjackets, Michael Bolton, Lionel Richie, Kenny Loggins, and the Doobie Brothers. It may take awhile to find a more accomplished saxophonist in the pop world.

I am doubtless, however, in thinking that many people will be turned off of F-Zero Arranged due to it’s dated production. The album came out in 1992, and so it has that distinctively late 80’s/early 90’s production. In short, the whole thing kind of sounds like it was recorded in a massive bathroom, especially if you’re listening with a setup that lacks bass response. The sound takes on an ethereal, otherworldly character as a result of its production, but at the same time I can understand why people with more contemporary music tastes and sensibilities would be turned off by it’s tinniness.

All things considered, this album is phenomenal. To think that two of my greatest loves – Jazz Fusion and video games – could come together in such a powerful way as F-Zero Arranged simply tickles me pink. It’s an album that leaves no room for original composition but features the freshest and most skilled performances of these classic game tunes. It’s an album that could have been so easily ‘phoned in’, settling with lower-tier session players merely getting the job done.

One of the only problems with this album is how difficult it is to track down a physical copy. The only place I could reliably find it for sale was on the Discogs marketplace, where the lowest asking price is over $100 CAD. If you can find a physical copy of F-Zero Arranged, well you’ve certainly got yourself quite a small treasure sure to impress anyone who knows a thing or two about game music. Unfortunately I also could not find the album for purchase on any digital marketplaces, either, but you can download it from an archive here.

With the added panache of these renowned session players, F-Zero Arranged is transformed into a musical behemoth of flashy licks and complicated improvisation weaved within ever-nostalgic video game melodies. F-Zero Arranged is a tour-de-force that transcends the novelty of game music, and it deserves your time; let Acuna, Russo, and the rest show you their moves, and you’ll be hit with a Falcon Punch of sonic excellence.

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