Prescription for Sleep: Lullabies of Mana
Prescription for Sleep: Lullabies of Mana
Scarlet Moon Records
December 1, 2015
Download at LOUDR
Prescription for Sleep: Lullabies of Mana is the third arrangement album of the series from the GENTLE LOVE duo consisting of pianist AYAKI and Norihiko Hibino on saxophone. As usual, the arrangements feature lengthy developments and improvisations on the original themes in a soothing jazz style, though this time the focus has been narrowed down to a single game: Secret of Mana (or Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan), originally scored by Hiroki Kikuta.
“Angel’s Fear” starts the album off. AYAKI is first, with a soft piano opening before the main melody appears on saxophone. The arrangement is just what we’ve come to expect from the duo, although I’ll admit that it didn’t take long for it to become basically unrecognizable; the original melodic material is quite short, and isn’t quite enough to ground the improvisations for seven minutes. “Phantom And… A Rose…” thankfully doesn’t experience this problem, because the original has a very recognizable accompaniment and more meat to its melody. Not to mention that the original translates itself into this arrangement style very well, resulting in a beautiful and moving track. Similar with recognizable foundations are “Into the Thick of It” and “The Color of the Summer Sky”, though both of these are much brighter tracks than the first two. The former has always been a great track that retains its intrigue here, and latter especially is very bright and optimistic, played beautifully by both performers with incredible warmth and tenderness.
“Secret of the Arid Sands” begins a more serious selection of tracks. It’s at first on odd choice for the album, given the original’s atmosphere exotic feel and heavier focus on percussion, but GENTLE LOVE manages to make it a meditative piece that does wonderfully when it blossoms a bit later on. “What the Forest Taught Me” is generally a brighter piece, but the slower pace taken here really allows the brief downturn that the melody and harmonization takes in its later half to have more impact and sink in, making the track feel more complex than the original did. This segment is focused on a bit later on the improvisation as well. Then there is “Spirit of the Night”, more overtly melancholic than the others. Hibino really shines with the saxophone here, leading the piece with a heartfelt and even raw performance, with AYAKI providing great support and later taking on a solo section with a healthy dose of jazziness. “Calm Before the Storm” does a great job of easing gradually out of that more sombre place rather than fully going more upbeat like the original does. This selection finishes with “A Dark Star”, a bit of an ominous piece. The duo translate this work with some unexpected results. It doesn’t have the same heightening tension that the original track has, but it still finds a way to put the listener in a constant state of anticipation for what comes next.
The closing of the album is signalled with “Leave Time For Love”, which in its original place amped players up, but here offers more reflection on the journey taken up to this point, exploring a few emotions that hadn’t yet been considered on the album. The duo gives a more rousing and dynamic performance here, allowing the piece to crescendo a few times over its runtime. Appropriately following is “Now Flightless Wings”, which is one of the more texturally diverse offerings from the team thus far, with some trills on the sax and watery figures in the piano, and a few noticeable tempo changes throughout. These all come together nicely, and there are some really moving moments when those familiar melodies are laid bare in contrast to the thicker moments of improvisation. A fine and fitting way to finish the Secret of Mana covers.
As the team did with their previous album, we have here again an original track to close, taking for its inspiration the entirety of Secret of Mana. This time things are also changed up by the addition of sounds of nature alongside the improvisations of Hibino and AYAKI, which turn out to be a perfect fit. It helps of course that GENTLE LOVE gives their all on this track. It is a much simpler piece than the rest of the songs on the album, but in that it truly captures a state of complete peace and tranquility, encouraging us to slow down and appreciate what we have around us. It’s an enchanting work, and as much as one might want to label the nature sounds as a gimmick, it absolutely worked and I could think of no better way to close the album.
When I first saw the announcement, I thought that I might be tiring of the established set-up, but GENTLE LOVE show again in Prescription For Sleep: Lullabies of Mana that they’ve got something special, and for now they’re just as captivating as they were when they began. Perhaps it is the wonderful source material that they’ve chosen this time, or the extra cohesion gained from focusing on a single game, narrative, and composer, but I had no problems enjoying this wonderful tribute so Hiroki Kikuta’s beloved score. The track selection is great, with some surprises that still work very well on the album. The closing, original track is also a real winner, and I would love to see more like it in the future. It is still possible that I may tire of this style at some point later, but that time has not yet come. As usual, the music is certainly able to ease you into a sleepy state, but it’s so beautifully performed that it can easily engross you as well. You’ll be hard-pressed to find better musicianship elsewhere.
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Posted on January 19, 2016 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on January 19, 2016.