Back when I introduced my video game music/jazz group, The Hard Modes, I mentioned that most of the output of the video game remix community that carries the label "jazz" that I hear has more of a lounge/smooth vibe to it than music that is steeped in African American improvisatory tradition. There were a couple of exceptions that I noted, and since then, I've come across some other groups that are producing music that's similar to what we're doing. I think that, in order for this music to thrive, it's important for the community surrounding our groups and its fans to become integrated, so I thought that I'd share their music with you.
The first of two entities that I mentioned in that post, Carlos Eiene - a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston -, seems to be the rockstar of the scene. He has a thriving Patreon that's fueled by his consistent bi-weekly release of content on his YouTube channel, and the content itself is varied in style and in game selection.
The video above is pretty typical of his style (here's the original track from Pokemon Gold/Silver). He tends to put the most emphasis on working around the melody of tunes to the point where his arrangements sound like they were built more for a jazz ensemble/big band than for small ensemble work. That large ensemble feel is especially backed by the multitrack saxophone harmonies and the short improvisation sections.
That said, he does dabble in small group sounds, as well. For example, his "Tetris A" arrangement - a fusion of the game's melody (aka Russian folk song "Korobeiniki") and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" - though, is one that was built for a combo, and when I saw him at MAGFest earlier this year, he played his arrangements in a quartet setting.
My friend Dave, a fellow sax player in the UVA Jazz Ensemble back in the late aughts, turned me on to this group, which just released its sophomore album, Contraband Reloaded. It's been a long time coming--their first album was released in late 2008, which is shockingly old.
Out of all the groups that I've heard, this one seems to employ the best players overall. Their musicianship is apparent not only in the solid playing of the arrangements, but also in their improvisation. I'm glad they're back in business!
OC Jazz Collective
This group - the second of two that I had previously mentioned - is a collection of video game music arrangers that are part of the popular online community OverClocked ReMix. For those that don't know, OC ReMix members will volunteer to direct the creation of albums that consist of remixes of tunes that fall under certain themes (usually focusing on one particular game).
The embedded tune above is from their album tribute to Chrono Trigger, which features arrangements by various members of their group (with one exception). They don't have much released outside of this album, but their leader is directing another project which hopefully we'll get to hear in the near future.
The Koopa Troop
Hard Modes pianist Nick Berkin is friends with these guys, who you can see perform live if you live near Ontario. Most of their material is older, but they just recently released this video and the headlines for their shows indicate that they have more material than that which has been released on the interwebs. If you like the rock-leaning area of the jazz spectrum you'll dig their stuff.
My favorite track of theirs is the underwater theme from Donkey Kong Country, "Aquatic Ambience." They don't have video of it up, but you can check it out on their website.
Super Soul Bros.
While the Super Soul Bros. aren't a jazz group/they're not really in the same musical realm as the aforementioned, if you like the others then you'll probably be into them. I've seen them perform multiple times at MAGFest throughout the years, and theirs is always a fun show. Their arrangements are groovy, and their improvisers are really good at burning through this type of music.
Tetrimino is the VG cover band of my friend Matt Mukerjee (bass). They, too, are not a traditional jazz/improvisatory-based group, but I felt like it was appropriate to put them on here as their arrangements are based in jazz fusion. All of their works are super fun and the playing is tight. They haven't released much recently, but I saw Matt at MAGFest this year and he hopes that after he finishes up with grad school they might be able to get back in gear.
If you know of other jazz groups that fall under even remotely the same category as The Hard Modes and these other groups, please share them with me in the comments section! I'd love to hear and connect with these musicians so that we can drive each other to produce more great music.