The first AKS endorsed solo piano album has been released, featuring the one and only Sakiko Matsui.
Before diving into the album itself, let me provide some background on the artist for those of you who don’t know about her yet. Sakiko currently attends Tokyo Music College, and is pursuing a major in piano performance, which must be tough to balance out with her duties in AKB. She has shown up several times in performances and even on variety shows playing classical pieces.
When I heard that a solo piano album was going to be released, I was a bit skeptical. I mean, Sakiko could crank out a couple of AKB covers and try to mix some classical in between, sure, but how would that appeal to the masses who have been brainwashed by the steady thud of the bass found in modern pop? Even as a classically and jazz trained pianist myself, I was unsure of how I would enjoy this, and after listening to it, I have my answer. But I’ll reveal that after doing a quick track-by-track summary and see if you all enjoy it as well.
Kokoro no Fumen
The album opens with a rendition of the Nissin Cup Noodles promotion song that AKB performed. Sounds very ‘Kingdom Hearts-y’ to me, not too long, not too short, at 3 minutes 22 seconds it’s perfect enough to not bore people who are unused to solo piano right off the bat but introduce Sakiko and her unique style.
The opening is an epic, very Rachmaninov-like intro that sounds nothing like Aitakatta until the melody suddenly turns to a major key and the ever-so-familiar melody of Aitakatta is heard. The chorus of Sakiko’s rendition is another very epic version of the original, reminiscent of the AKB0048 version sans the string orchestra. This song first showed me how technically proficient Sakiko actually is, and I was surprised. Aitakatta overall was a very concerty piece with the irresistible AKB catchiness splashed in, which left me unprepared for the next song on the album.
Spanish guitar, anyone??? I get a vivid image of empty streets in Barcelona, with heavy strumming and soloing until AKB suddenly pops out in full costume and begins performing Flying Get. With a mix of guitar, bongos, auxiliary percussion, bass and the ever present piano, this Furage is as much a powerhouse as you can have when all the instruments are completely acoustic. I am highly impressed with the arrangement of this song, when all of a sudden Sakiko bursts out into an incredibly jazzy solo, complemented by the guitar. HOT DAMN. It’s good. And to cap it all off, the ending is just as powerful as the original was. As the Spanish would say, ¡esta canción es fantástica!
Utau Ketsueki ~Utsui Ken no Kaatsu Training no Theme~
Calming down after the last song, ‘Utau Ketsueki’ is more peaceful, with compassion and emotion heard throughout. The classical elements are back, present in the chord progressions and stylistic choices (i.e. the trills, ornaments, harmonies, etc). However, this is not a song to be discounted or skipped; the classical and J-Pop once again work in perfect tandem. I could definitely use this sometime to fall asleep to. Zzz….
Taking this high energy summer-themed song down a notch, Sakiko still manages to make it feel like summer is shining out of the piano. There’s not much to say about this rendition, other than it is pretty much true to the original song, which I like.
Tamashii no Idou ~Gugutasu-min no Theme~
Upon reaching ‘Tamashii’, I had heard the previews for this song before, but this was actually a big reason for why I had such low expectations for Sakiko’s album. The song itself is a very unorthodox tune, not very mainstream, containing a lot of harsh, grating unusual sounds. There are tritones and dissonances (in layman’s terms, weird sounding stuff) and not a whole lot of conventional melodies. To most wota’s untrained ear, unless they themselves were accustomed to this sort of music, I could not see how they would be inspired to buy this album just based on listening to this preview track. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is still a good track, but based on what I expected from the general public, I was scared that this song alone would scare off a lot of people.
After Sakiko’s very low energy “In yo position, set”, another standard arrangement of an AKB song begins. This one is mainly just like ‘Everyday’ where Sakiko is just playing the melody with her right hand and accompaniment with her left. Not a standout track, but still enjoyable to listen to if you liked the original.
Ponytail to Shushu
I really enjoyed this version of ‘Ponytail’. Lots of pounding on the keyboard, which reminds me of how I play songs when I really get into them. I actually learned ‘Ponytail’ on piano and guitar the day before this album was released just by listening to the song and writing out the chords, and I was quite proud of what I had done until I heard Sakiko’s version, and now I feel quite inadequate. This arrangement is filled with these full sounding chords and melodies, and to top it all off, another jazzy solo. I feel like Sakiko’s technical skill really shines in this song; you can hear really big jumps across the keyboard, running scales in both the left and right hands, a good solo and a final run across the length of the keyboard to the end. Five stars all around.
Ya mon, reggae! This version of Heavy Rotation features a reggae band comprised of a solo trombone, guitar, bass and drums, and this time Sakiko takes more of a backseat on the song, playing in the background and offering more support than straight melody. I like this approach because it showcases how well she can interact and work with a band. If you want a really chill version of Hebirote that’ll make you want to sip a piña colada on a Jamaican beach, this is the song for you.
Sakura no Ki ni Narou
This song is in my opinion the most beautiful track on this album. It is nearly identical to the actual song until the strings join in at the chorus. The song builds up gently to the peak, combining the strings and piano in a beautiful cohesion that I think is better than the actual song itself. Strong ties to the AKB0048 arrangements again, I think this actually might be the same string orchestra that collaborated with AKS to create that soundtrack. Very solid ballad.
W.A. Mozart Piano Sonata No. 18 K.576
The one non-arranged track on this album, Sakiko saved the classical song for the end. Of all the classical pieces I could’ve imagined she’d do, she chose a very standard, non-technical, simplistic yet pretty sonata. I’ve heard this particular song too many times at multiple piano competitions, and I’ve grown quite sick of it. However, whether it’s due to a pianist I’ve never heard playing it or the fact that it is SAKIKO, I enjoyed her version of it. I’m sure judges at a competition might not like her interpretation of this time-honored sonata, but because this is her own album, she can do whatever she wants.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, I LOVED this album. I definitely started listening to this with a really skeptical ear, but I soon began to warm to every track, especially when I realized that it wasn’t overly classical nor overly simple (which was my other fear for this album). Sakiko demonstrates a surprising proficient ability at playing multiple styles and demanding lines. Again, she deserves praise for putting together such a great album while maintaining her duties in AKB. I HIGHLY recommend this album for any AKB fan, even if you don’t like instrumentals or arrangements of songs as much as the originals. Something like this isn’t released often. The songs are unassuming, it’s not trying to ‘sell out’ to a particular audience, and it’s not full of the record label’s footsteps walking all over the release. THIS is how you make an album. Kokyuusuru Piano may easily turn out to be my favorite release of the year. Five stars to the sky.