We’ve looked at music to sleep to, and much more of that is to come, but this time we’re going to dig into Norihiko Hibino’s foray into pop standards. His original Gentle Love album (not to be confused with the Gentle Love performing group with Hibino on saxophone and AYAKI on piano) combines saxophone, piano, and acoustic guitar while visiting pop standards from all around the world, including Japan, China, the Philippines, the United States, and Latin America.
Some of the picks will surprise you. Let’s jump in!
Starting from the top, “Beautiful Girl” comes to us via Filipino artist Jose Mari Chan. This love ballad sways ever so gently with a warm saxophone lead and a soft piano backing, giving you a taste of what’s in store as the album progresses.
There are a number of tracks from Chinese artists. It’s a bit unusual to hear a saxophone used to voice some of these distinctly Asian-sounding melodies, but it works perfectly in the case of the sweet “Green Island Serenade” and the upbeat “Ye Lai Xaing.” “Decendant of the Dragon” takes a bit of a defiant approach with some improvisation on the saxophone, but the piano provides a dreamy backdrop keeps the arrangement rooted in “gentle love.”
Finally, “Forever Love” by American-born Lee Hom Wang sports a soft and seductive sax with a beautifully interwoven guitar and piano backing that makes for one of the most beautiful pieces on the album.
There’s a quick stop in Japan and Latin America with “Subaru” and “Eres Tu,” respectively. “Subaru” features plucked acoustic guitar notes that create a strong backing for the mellow saxophone performance. The sax even drops out at one point, allowing the acoustic guitar to take over, providing a very soothing soundscape. “Eres Tu,” on the other hand, is more upbeat with strong piano phrasing and a reflective melody.
It’s then on to the United States with the dynamic “And I Love You So” with its moving saxophone performance that ranges from a whisper to a shout, the wonderful “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” with similar dynamics that will have you nearly falling asleep during the warm saxophone parts that occasionally spike just to make sure you’re still awake with the piano dances lightly in the background.
In an unexpected turn, “Nadia’s Theme – The Young And The Restless” offers up an awesome cover of the American television standard that anyone who’s watched daytime television in the US over the past 40 years should instantly recognize. The arrangement combines strings, piano, and acoustic guitar and admittedly falls more on the dramatic side than the loving one, but it’s still one of the best tracks on the album.
The final track, “Do What You Gotta Do,” has a nice little bounce in it step, provided by the acoustic guitar, with the sax and piano accompaniments build in intensity over the course of the piece. It’s a great closer that ends the album on a positive note.
Gentle Love is an interesting East-meets-West experiment that really pays off. You’ll find relaxation, drama, and love within, so feel free to listen to some samples on iTunes where it can be purchased for $9.99, or pick up the physical album for $14 at CD Baby.