The OneUps Volume 2

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After the jazz band The OneUps released their debut CD in 2005 to nearly universal positive reviews, expectations were high for their next release, The OneUps Volume 2. Fans of the band will be happy to note that their sophomore act does not disappoint. There are a few weak tracks and some points where the melody seems to get lost in the band's superb background accompaniment. However, this two disc set is generally an inspired and well-produced effort overall from the perspectives of track selection, arrangement, and performance.


It's good to see a group in the video game arrangement community that is willing to step outside the bounds of role-playing games and take on some of the less-remixed music from other genres. Those familiar with OverClocked ReMix and VGMix will probably note that games such as Chrono Trigger attract an absurd amount of attention when it comes to rearrangements, but that very popular themes like the original Super Mario Bros. background music are often left by the wayside. In this two disc set, The OneUps take note of this issue and generally steer clear of repeating what has been done, redone, and redone again ad infinitum. Not only do they avoid remixing songs that have been mixed to death, they also manage to stay fresh even with tracks like "Green Hill Zone" from the Genesis classic Sonic the Hedgehog by varying the melody considerably from the original and improvising where appropriate.

A stellar example of this avoidance of remixing a well-known, but less often covered, track is "Music A (Korobieniki)" from Tetris. Starting slowly, the band builds the song up with the violin closely adhering to the source material. Then, suddenly, everything breaks loose, and we have a no-holds barred sax solo by Anthony Lofton. It is followed by a more traditional refrain and then again by a completely different take on the song by Greg Kennedy's violin. The arrangement closes by bringing both the sax and violin together to fully realize the piece in a work that could be performed at any graduation, wedding, or other celebration. Surely chaos would quickly ensue as dancers attempt to keep up with the accelerating beat.

Many of the songs here are based upon a formula that works extremely well:

Introduce the theme and slowly build up to a climax
Break out into a sax solo
Come together in harmony with the original theme again
Let the violin have its turn as the lead
Finish out the piece with a breakdown

The previously mentioned "Music A", Final Fantasy VI's "Terra", and Super Metroid's "Brinstar" are just a few of the examples of this formula. It works very well and all of the tracks that utilize this formula succeed in introducing a new interpretation while still remaining true to the original melody.

Unfortunately, there are some tracks that aren't quite up to the level that we're used to with this band. "Dungeon Medley", an arrangement of the dungeon themes from The Legend of Zelda, is too long and does not develop into a coherent piece. The bass line and the harmony dominate the piece, and the melody simply seems to stop at several places, for up to 30 seconds at a time. The listener is left bored, waiting for something to happen, while all that's going on is a few drumbeats and an ominous bass line. Without a strong melody, listeners may find themselves thumbing the "next" button on their CD players or iPods.

The OneUps also make an effort at "Chrono Trigger", which also falls short. Someone who has never been exposed to video games would probably appreciate this piece, but there's not much new here in what is possibly the most-remixed song in the entire history of video game remixes. This is a good performance of the original with some arrangement, but it's difficult for the arrangement to break any ground because it's no longer possible to do anything new with this tired melody.

The feel of this album is definitely laid back and relaxing, even more so than the first album in fact. I found myself listening to it on a perfect afternoon for this type of music — a sunny Saturday in mid-September, with the temperature hovering in the upper 60s, and a light breeze whistling by. The band's sound was perfect for just sitting outside in the pleasantly warm sun and relaxing to these tunes for an hour or so. Secret of Mana's "Into the Thick of It" and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past's "Tiem of the Falling Rain" are especially relaxing and could easily serve as lounge jazz. If you're looking for heart-pumping driving music, however, another selection might be better.


This is a great second go-around for The OneUps, so I look forward to their recently confirmed The OneUp Volume 3. The OneUps Volume 2 has a distinctive sound that is cohesive throughout the entire album. The band expertly avoids tracks that have been over-remixed, with one obvious exception, and concentrates only a small portion of the album on RPGs, which is refreshing. Excepting a handful of weak tracks, the arrangements are expertly written and performed, and do these classics justice. It's hard to achieve balance between writing something that's entirely new and simply transcribing the original melody, but The OneUps have succeeded in creating arrangements you'll be tapping your feet to in no time.


Music in game


Stephen Sokolowski


A band's first album is generally what makes or breaks them, and many bands sadly end up failing. The reasons for this are complex, but lack of publicity, poor music and performance, and lack of originality are the three major reasons. Thankfully, such reasons for failure should not be the bane of The OneUps. Indeed, publicity is not a problem, as OneUp Studios already has a fairly dedicated group of fans, after releasing several fan-arranged albums, including Xenogears Light and Time & Space: A Tribute to Yasunori Mitsuda. In addition, there is certainly a demand for such a band, as there is no band other than The OneUps that specialises in jazz and other types arrangements of a wide variety of video game music available. While there are some people out there who still doubt fan-arrangers capabilities, as several albums have gone to show, fan-arranged albums are not inferior to most official ones, but merely different. Most importantly, however, the quality of the music and performance of The OneUps Volume 1 is far stronger than most fan groups.

With that said, let me introduce you to the performers. First and foremost is Anthony Lofton, the leading star, who is the tenor and soprano saxophonist for the majority of the album. As a fairly proficient saxophonist myself, it takes a lot for me to be left in awe of another performer, but Anthony had that effect on me. His jazz ability is phenomenal, with his solos not only being immensely technically accurate, but also original, varied, and extremely passionate. He was an excellent choice to lead the album and, in many ways, is the heart and soul of the band. Violinist Greg Kennedy is another amazing soloist throughout the album and quite a few tracks display his talent. Though he appears to have already picked up a legion of fans after his work on Xenogears Light, this album shows off his virtuosic flair even more prominently. While the other musicians take a more supportive role, each stands out in some way, with Jared Dunn proving to be consistently excellent on the drums, Tim Yarbrough and William Reyes being strong on various forms of guitar, and Mustin proving his versatility on keyboards, bari sax, percussion, and other instruments.

The track listings incorporate arrangements of from a wide variety of games, and though Zelda and Mario arrangements feature most prominently, arrangements from hit games such as Katamari Damacy, Chrono Trigger, and Donkey Kong Country also feature. Most of the original melodies are very well-known and the track listings should ensure it is a wonderful haven for gamers and soundtrack collectors alike. As you've probably guessed, the arrangements themselves are principally jazz-oriented, though a wide variety of other genres appear, varying from Rock to Bluegrass all the way to Funk. Often, such diversity is added when a member of the band creates a solo arrangement himself, and there are several solo arrangements in addition to the ones created by the band as a whole. This supports the diverse track listings, though stylistic consistency is maintained to an extent, which ensures the album forms a cohesive whole. In fact, with one exception, there isn't a single track on the album that feels misplaced or interruptive. All the arrangements take a new and creative approach by often transforming the styles of the original altogether, and this gives the album its own unique flair. Still, a happy medium is maintained between being expansive and making the original unrecognisable; though the styles sometimes change, the original melodies are often left untouched.


The album starts with a funk arrangement of one of the most memorable Sega themes ever created, taken from ToeJam & Earl. Mustin begins the track with the bass guitar, playing a classic riff, and William Reyes and Tim Yarbrough come in soon after, playing the electric nylon string guitar and electric guitar respectively. Though a simple introduction, this is the intention, in order for the melody to have room for expansion later on through some real jammin'. Indeed, the track really starts moving when Anthony Lofton and his tenor saxophone join in. At first, he has a small input, but by the 1:30 mark he is giving the track a awe-inspiring performance, playing virtuosic jazzy passages with flair and never relenting. The best part of the track comes at the 3:00 mark, when Mustin comes in and improvises on the electric piano, later joined by Anthony Lofton, who makes this passage even more remarkable. Despite the absence of any guitar solos and violin passages, it still feels very fulfilling; boasting an excellent performance, some inspired arranging, and plenty of development, this track is certainly a wonderful introduction to the The OneUp's work.

Katamari Damacy's arrangement is one of the few tracks to feature the entire band, giving it a special touch. The diversity of the timbres to be heard in this one is greater than any other, admittedly in large part given Mustin and Jared Dunn play nine instruments between them! The melody mostly alternates between Anthony Lofton on his two saxophones and singer Rebekah Wood, a guest performer for this track and the only vocalist (and female, for that matter) to be featured on the album. Her vocals fit in perfectly with the laid-back feel of the rest of the track and capture that distinctive Katamari spirit. As far as ambient pieces go, "Aquatic Ambience" has always been surprisingly melodic and The OneUp's arrangement serves only to emphasise this by combining Anthony Lofton's utterly gorgeous soprano saxophone melody with all sorts of atmospheric effects from Mustin's synthesizer pad and piano decorations. The dreamy melodic lines leave you captivated, due to their natural flow and gorgeous execution from Anthony, while Mustin's underlying piano decoration adds to the surreal feel further. It will be too close to smooth jazz for some people's tastes, but matches the tone of the original and overall album.

As I briefly discussed in the overview, several arrangements on the album were written by only one person and "Monkey" is the first of these, coming straight from the heart of Mustin. He plays no less than four instruments here — the melodica, piano, guiro, and bass guitar — and though the melodica is the dominant throughout, the other instruments are all effectively utilised and are an apt demonstration of Mustin's ability to play almost any instrument well. Though it's fairly rare to see a melodica be utilised these days, since this track seems to be inspired by Jamaican music, it seems entirely appropriate and gives the track a novel timbre. Though fans of emotional or action-packed arrangements may find this one a little dull, for those who like light arrangements done in an unusual style, it is sure to satisfy. Kirby's "Green Greens" is Anthony Lofton's only solo arrangement, and he plays a major part in the performance, too, as the electric pianist, soprano saxophonist, and tenor saxophonist. Despite Anthony obviously requiring separate recording sessions for each instrument in order to do this, the track runs perfectly, as each instrument is played in time with the others and the the saxophone melodic lines are perfectly interwoven together and even elaborately improvise together at one point.

Tim Yarbrough also gets a chance to truly shine with Koji Kondo's "Isle Delfino", offering both a crisp arrangement and an acoustic steel string guitar performance. These guitar lines certainly have a certain brightness and punch to them, and this is further emphasised with Tim's enjoyable solo about a minute in. The Super Mario Kart arrangement is another laid-back piece, this time featuring an alto saxophone performance courtesy of Nathan McLeod. Like Anthony, he is a strong performer, capturing a cheeky, laid-back, yet beautiful sound of the "Koopa Beach". Despite the dominance of the alto saxophone, Anthony Lofton gets his soprano sax out a little later on to play an absolutely incredible solo and William Reyes also makes some fine contributions by stretching his nylon string guitar melody to its limits through some excellent improvisation. It's another successful refinement of The OneUps' light jazz sound. Axelay is guest arranger Posu Yan's only arrangement on the album and succeeds in being a strong addition to the album. Posu Yan, saxophonist Anthony Lofton, and guitarist William Reyes all really stand out for their efforts here, since the trio successfully allowed the arrangement to be relaxing and also stand up in its own right against tracks with a similar atmosphere.

The sole Bluegrass track, taken from Earthworm Jim, isn't a disappointment and Greg Kennedy is the primary reason for this. He truly shines on the fiddle, demonstrating his flair by playing immensely difficult passages with unsurpassable technical accuracy, while retaining a buoyant feel throughout. The arrangement's fast-paced tempo, vast range, and endless demanding runs are no match for Greg and his unfaltering persistence throughout the track is nothing short of inspirational. Though it will rank unfavourably by individuals who despise all country music, it is still well done. Another violin-focused arrangement, the band's interpretation of Bomberman also captures the spirit of the original. The various guitar and bass riffs capture the quirky yet dynamic feeling of the original, while Greg Kennedy's violin solo adds to the eccentricity. It's bound to win over most fans. The town medley from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is the only solo performance on the album, being an acoustic guitar piece that was both arranged and performed by William Reyes. Probably the most subtle track, the repetition of the main melodies and simplicity of the harmonies contrast with the rest of the material. However, the arrangement captures a serene town perfectly and provides a welcome break from the action-packed pieces.

Since the Zelda main theme has been arranged many times in its long history, arranging it here might seem a poor move. However, it actually proves to be one of the best additions, since it affirmatively demonstrates that The OneUps can give any track their individual touch, even if it has been arranged 20-30 times already. Instead of adhering to a synth orchestral or hard rock approach, they present the theme as a relaxing bossa-nova. It's another display of McLeod's talents on the alto saxophone, while the rest of the band offer a lulling rhythm throughout. While another saxophone-led arrangement may be excessive, it's a fresh take on a wonderful melody. Talking of overarranged pieces, "Schala" is the only arrangement of a Square album to be featured, which is quite a surprise, as OneUp Studios have mostly arranged Square themes in the past. Mustin opens the track with the memorable glockenspiel melody from the original and Greg Kennedy soon joins in and plays part of the main melody on the violin in an extremely sensitive way. Though the violin sadly takes a backseat in the passage that follows, Anthony Lofton fills in the hole effectively by playing the rest of the melody in his trademark semi-improvised style. It's nothing new for the band, but a nice perspective on the original.

Remember that I said there was one arrangement that was one exception to the rule of all arrangements fitting the album? Well, unfortunately, the arrangement of "Koopa's Theme" is it. Suddenly placing a heavy metal arrangement after a series of light jazz arrangements simply ends up sounding odd and the arrangement significantly undermines the overall feel of the album. As a stand-alone arrangement, it is pretty good, and expands effectively on the original in order to fit the genre well. Particularly notable additions include the emphasis on the amplified and distorted guitars, the virtuosic and wonderfully executed lead guitar solos from William Reyes in the arrangement's latter half, and the aggressive, driving rhythms from Mustin's bass guitar and rhythm guitars that run throughout. The correspondence between Mustin and William Reyes is particularly well-executed, while Jared Dunn's supporting role on the drums is also very effective. Still, though the solos add a lot to the track, the arrangement does feel repetitive, as the bass riff and main melody all repeat far too many times to allow this track to sound interesting after several listens. Though this track boasts an excellence performance and will surely please most rockers out there, it is the most disappointing on the album, since the arrangement is a little weak and the style itself is inappropriate for this particular album.

Maniac Mansion's "Michael" has the most interesting introduction on the album, being led by Greg Kennedy on the violin, who plays a light and syncopated little melody. The rest of the piece follows the same structure of the band's other jams — exposition of the melody, a succession of solos, and an emotional recapitulation — with a few deviations here and there. While not one of my favourites, its catchy violin melodies and superb instrument solos still make it a very worthy addition to the album. "Paperboy" leads straight in from "Michael" and closes the album in a fitting way, despite the absence of Greg Kennedy. The bicycle bell, in particular, really screams nostalgia during the introduction. William Reyes thereafter leads on the electric nylon string guitar, playing a light and rhythmic melody, subtly accompanied by Tim Yarbrough. Soon enough, the melody becomes improvised over by Anthony Lofton and he doesn't let us down with his final solo on the album, which shouldn't be a surprise, since Anthony seems incapable of doing anything badly. Though the section after the saxophone solo seems a little uninspired, being repetitive and anticlimactic, the track doesn't quite end there, as there is a bonus part featured after silence for about a minute. Though I won't spoil it by describing it, it's a fun and slightly cheesy touch that should certainly make any gamer smile.

The album does have flaws, though these are mostly minor ones. The most significant of these is the low-key role keyboard instruments had throughout the album. As previous albums have shown, Mustin is a very talented pianist, yet none of the tracks really show off his talent. A track based around principally around jazz piano would have been a welcome treat to all those pianists out there and would have brought an additional layer of diversity to the album. The only rock track was also disappointing, sounding inappropriate for the album, and it's clear that the band need to spend more time refining this style. Another significant letdown was the information accompanying the CD; apart from a Special Thanks page and some credits, no further information is created. Some liner notes and biographies of the performers would have been a welcome addition, and, though substantial information is provided relating to this on The OneUp's Web site, a hard copy would have been much more easily accessible and given the album a more personal touch. The design could have been better, too; though the artwork is lovely (save the dead turtle on the inside cover), the text is often very difficult to read, particularly on the Special Thanks page.


Quite evidently, The OneUps Volume 1 is an outstanding debut for The OneUps. The arrangements are nearly always inspiring, creative, and melodic, while the performances are consistently good. The band members are all hugely talented, and, while Anthony Lofton, Greg Kennedy, and William Reyes make the biggest impact, the other three never stumble and all stand out in several places on the album. Furthermore, each band member clearly has a significant amount of talent when it comes to arranging Furthermore, Mustin and mixer Dale North deserve a special mention for their work behind-the-scenes, which made this album possible and ensured it became executed in the finest way possible. With such a great amount of musical talent in the band, as well as high levels of publicity and an original style, The OneUps certainly deserved their success. Despite its slight flaws, with near-perfect track listings, exceptional performances, accessible arrangements, and unique and diverse styles, it's well worth checking out.


Music in game


Chris Greening

Pre-released at Penny Arcade Expo 2008 (August 29-31, 2008).

Disc I

01. Title Screen (Hirokazu Tanaka, Ryoji Yoshitomi, Kazumi Totaka)
From Mario Paint
Arranged and Performed by Tim Yarbrough

02. Punch-Out!! (Yukio Kaneoka, Akito Nakatsuka, Kenji Yamamoto)
From Punch-Out!!
Arranged and Performed by:
Tim Yarbrough - Guitar
Mustin - Bass
Jared Dunn - Drums

03. Green Hill Zone (Masato Nakamura)
From Sonic the Hedgehog
Arranged and Performed by The OneUps

04. Music A (Korobeiniki) (Traditional)
From Tetris
Arranged and Performed by The OneUps

05. Into the Thick of It (Hiroki Kikuta)
From Secret of Mana
Arranged and Performed by The OneUps
Greg Kennedy - Violin
Anthony Lofton - Tenor Sax
William Reyes - Nylon Electric Guitar
Mustin - Bass
Jared Dunn - Drums/Shaker
Alexander Reyes - Djembe

06. Air Man (Takashi Tateishi, Manami Matsumae)
From Mega Man 2
Arranged and Performed by The OneUps

07. Mii Channel (Kazumi Totaka)
From Nintendo Wii
Arranged by Dale North & Greg Kennedy
Dale North - Keyboard/Percussion
Greg Kennedy - Violin
Mustin - Bass/Percussion

08. Boomer Kuwanger (Setsuo Yamamoto, Makoto Tomozawa, Yuki Iwai, Yuko Takehara, Toshihiko Horiyama)
From Mega Man X
Arranged and Performed by The OneUps

09. Brinstar (Plant Overgrowth Area) (Kenji Yamamoto)
From Super Metroid
Arranged and Performed by The OneUps

10. Funky Goblin (Justin Scharvona, Martin Simpson)
From King Arthur's World
Arranged and Performed by The OneUps

11. Time of the Falling Rain (Koji Kondo)
From The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Arranged by Anthony Lofton
Performed by The OneUps

12. Vega (Yoko Shimomura)
From Street Fighter II
Arranged and Performed by:
Greg Kennedy - Violin
William Reyes - Nylon String Guitar/Castanets

13. Prelude (Hidenori Maezawa, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto)
From Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Arranged and Performed by William Reyes

Disc II arranged and performed by The OneUps
Tim Yarbrough - Lead Guitar
Greg Kennedy - Violin
Anthony Lofton - Keyboard/Tenor Sax
William Reyes - Rhythm Guitar
Mustin - Bass
Jared Dunn - Drums
Percussion on Tracks 6 and 7 by Jared Dunn and William Reyes

01. Title BGM (Hirokazu Tanaka)
From Metroid

02. Terra (Nobuo Uematsu)
From Final Fantasy VI

03. Alien Break Down (John Baker)
From ToeJam & Earl

04. Professor Oyama's Laboratory (Kazumi Totaka, Shinobu Tanaka)
From Luigi's Mansion

05. Fortuna (Hajime Hirasawa)
From StarFox

06. The Silence of the Daylight (Ken-ichi Matsubara, Kyohei Sada, Tonma-kun's Papa)
From Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

07. Dungeon Medley (Koji Kondo)
From The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

08. Underground BGM (Koji Kondo)
From Super Mario Bros. 2

09. Chrono Trigger (Yasunori Mitsuda)
From Chrono Trigger

10. Mystic Cave Zone (Masato Nakamura)
From Sonic the Hedgehog 2

11. Sagat (Isao Abe)
From Street Fighter II

12. Shadow Man (Yasuaki Fujita)
From Mega Man 3

13. African Mines (Capcom)
From DuckTales

The final track contains a hidden arrangement of "Overworld BGM" from Super Mario Bros., composed by Koji Kondo.
Album was composed by Akito Nakatsuka / Capcom Sound Team Alph Lyla / Hajime Hirasawa / Хидэнори Маэдзава / Хирокадзу Танака / Хироки Кикута / Исао Абэ / Джон Бейкер / Jun Funahashi / Justin Scharvona / Kazumi Totaka / Кэн-ити Мацубара / Кэндзи Ямамото / Кодзи Кондо / Kyohei Sada / Makoto Tomozawa / Martin Simpson / Масато Накамура / Nintendo Sound Team / Нобуо Уэмацу / Ryoji Yoshitomi / Setsuo Yamamoto / Синобу Танака / Такаси Татэйси / Tonma-kun's Papa / Toshihiko Horiyama / Ясуаки Фудзита / Ясунори Мицуда / Ёко Симомура / Yuki Iwai / Юкиэ Моримото / Yukio Kaneoka / Юко Такэхара and was released on September 02, 2008. Soundtrack consists of 26 tracks tracks with duration over more than hour. Album was released by OneUp Studios.

CD 1

Mario Paint - Title Screen
Sonic the Hedgehog - Green Hill Zone
Tetris - Music A (Korobeniki)
Secret of Mana - Into the Thick of It
Mega Man 2 - Air Man
Nintendo Wii - Mii Channel
Mega Man X - Boomer Kuwanger
Super Metroid - Brinstar
King Arthur's World - Funky Goblin
The Lenged of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Time of the Falling Rain
Street Fighter II - Vega
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse - Prelude

CD 2

Metroid - Title BGM
Final Fantasy VI - Terra
ToeJam & Earl - Alien Break Down
Luigi's Mansion - Professor Oyama's Laboratory
Star Fox - Fortuna
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest - The Silence of the Daylight
The Lenged of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Dungeon Medley
Super Mario Bros. 2 - Underground BGM
Chrono Trigger - Chrono Trigger Theme
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Mystic Cave Zone
Street Fighter II - Sagat
Mega Man 3 - Shadow Man
DuckTales - African Mines
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