You've heard him a thousand times, but have you heard him live?!
That's right: after releasing a myriad of albums for the Star Ocean series and Valkyrie Profile (note that these releases have kept coming even after this release), Sakuraba decides to show his skills through a live concert. With the help of his band (Toshihiko Nakamura on drums, Atsushi Hasegawa on bass), Sakuraba burns away the chaff and demonstrates his best abilities to a live crowd in Japan.
Though the two disc album begins with a slow (and, in my opinion, boring) start, things pick up quickly. "Fly Away in the Violet Sky" offers some interesting jazz sections that aren't found in other versions. And, after a brief breather in "Reflected Moon", the crowd is all but knocked backward by the force of "Hand to Hand", which sounds better than it has ever sounded before. After listening to this recording, I am beginning to believe that my disdain towards most things Sakuraba-related ought to be defined as a love/hate relationship, because I truly enjoyed this track. The pounding pulse of the song is enhanced by the fact that it is live: no amount of post-production can diminish its intensity. The synths used are also outstanding, and I can only wonder how Sakuraba keeps track of all the sounds he's using.
The in-your-face synth-rock festival keeps going for another two songs, and then we hit the nearly-20-minute version of "Theme of RENA." This is certainly an unlikely choice to include massively long drum and bass solos: but I promise you, it works. Take a listen to the lengthy sample provided to decide for yourself what you think of this track. It is essentially a "jam session" over one of the slower and more beautiful songs Sakuraba has ever written. Can you hear the song in the rocking section at the end? I can faintly hear the melody...but it is definitely a challenge. I was well pleased with this very lengthy track.
The second disc kicks off with "Highbrow", and I am yet again impressed. Sakuraba takes it straight to the piano (instead of organ or various synth sounds), and the result is nothing short of awesome. This eight minute recording is jam-packed with a solid beat and the occasional frilly solo that leaves you wanting more. This track might be my favorite recording on the album, but that is probably because I am partial to piano tracks.
A seven-minute instrumental version of "So Alone, Be Sorrow" is one giant piano solo, staying soft at the beginning and end, and building into a massive frenzy of hand-shaking piano madness in the middle. While this may sound impressive to the casual listener, I am afraid that I myself am not impressed with Sakuraba's skill on this particular track, though I do enjoy what it is I hear (maybe that's all that matters?).
Solid performance of "Mission to the Deep Space" and "Confidence in the Domination" follow. These versions vary only a little from the original in-game versions, with the main difference being the solos thrown in the middle. Again, the live instruments make the difference: these performances are absolutely tight, and it brings me to a deeper respect for what it is Sakuraba does (even if it does sound like the same thing over and over).
I was a little disappointed with the next two tracks: "Doorway to Heaven" especially was a bland performance. In my mind, they should've chosen another song to replace this one in the set.
The concert ends with a medley of three very rockin' songs. I don't need to describe this one: just listen to the two-minute sample and enjoy it.
We are also treated to a "Motoi Sakuraba Piano Solo" bonus track, recorded in-studio and not performed at the concert. This has the same sort of frilly stuff found on "So Alone, Be Sorrow" that one might consider impressive, but I find to be showy to the point where it no longer involves real artistic technique but rather an ability to shake your hands really quickly across various chords to create a fast arpeggio motion. Nonetheless, it still sounds good.
Above and beyond all other Star Ocean / tri-Ace / Sakuraba albums, I recommend this one to you. In fact, I would also recommend the region-free DVD release of this concert, which has all sorts of neat special features, as well as...well...this entire concert's video footage. Even those who would generally loathe Sakuraba can't help but enjoy this concert.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann