Music Gate // 2010 // 55 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // June 10th, 2010
A Japanese Chanteuse Croons the Classics -- and Tin Pan Alley Shrugs Its Shoulders.
They are called "standards" for a reason. From their memorable melodies to lyrics loaded with universal appeal, the composers of the early 20th century spent lifetimes crafting songs that would stand the test of future fandom. Indeed, before rock rolled over everything and took away the pop charts forever; the steady flow of material from Broadway, the movies, and Tin Pan Alley provided the soundtrack for at least two world wars and a lot of national struggles in between. In our cynical post-modern world, the concept of "standards" has taken on a new, more negligible meaning. With everyone from Linda Rondstadt to Rod Stewart taking on the genre, there has been a glut of last ditch efforts by flagging singers to resurrect their lagging record sales. Therefore, a standards album is seen as an act of desperation, an attempt by someone who use to rule Billboard or the folly of some upstart who no one thinks has the chops to truly sing in the first place. Even when done to impeccable perfection, there is always something to carp about (selection, arrangement, performance, etc.)
Which brings us to Japanese torch goddess Hiromi Kanda. Born in Nagasaki, she's been singing the American songbook for as long as she can remember. While wildly popular in her native country, her fame in the West is limited, to say the least. But with the mass roll out release of Hiromi in Love (album, DVD, Blu-ray -- you name it), her label hopes to change that. At first glance, it seems like they have the right approach. Ms. Kanda runs through several familiar favorites -- "The Old Feeling," "When I Fall In Love," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "My Funny Valentine," just to name a few -- and gets some additional help with some new songs ("Blue Love," "Always Here for You") from contemporary composer Yusuke Hoguchi. Presented in traditional big band arrangements, but toned down to a sizzling slow burn, Ms. Kanda delivers on the promise of providing her own unique take on the material. Most of the time, she whispers the words with a kind of 'come hither' coo. At other moments, she sing-speaks, barely breaking into the recognizable melodies. From a purely professional standpoint, she is excellent. But there is one aspect of her affectation which bears mentioning.
Clearly, Ms. Kanda is not a native speaker of English. Her pronunciation is odd and often harsh. Similarly, she seems to be addressing the line phonetically, putting bizarre emphasis on syllables that don't require such importance. And then there is her overall lack of emotion. The great singers of standards know how to sell the internal struggle within a stanza. They can hint at the world-weary beat of a bad love affair with every note they hit. Not Ms. Kanda. She is entertaining, but not engaging. You would never find yourself swooning to her take on Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" or weeping over her interpretation of Johnny Ray's "Cry." Indeed, it's hard to see why someone would think Ms. Kanda was capable of bringing these old tunes to life. Even hardcore crooners have a difficult time with stuff like "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" or "I'll Never Smile Again." While it is possible to enjoy her voice for its purity and variety, Hiromi in Love is an otherwise rote reading of what many consider to be a wealth of aural treasures. In this case, the prize is a tad less pristine.
From a technical standpoint, the Blu-ray release from Music Gate is decent. The 1080p image (thank God no TV-oriented 1080i) is colorful and sharp, with lots of beautiful scenery and set-ups. Ms. Kanda is decked out in period garb, outfits and accessories that match well with the music. There is some issue with the woman's look personally, the make-up personnel failing to fully smooth out uneven skintones and occasional blotchiness. While the image matches well with the high definition format, the audio is no great shakes. It's a pure stereo presentation, no dimensional aspect or attempt at immersion. While the music itself doesn't need further enhancements, fans of the format might be miffed. As for added content, there are two audio only tracks for the songs "How Deep is the Ocean" and "All the Way." That's it. Finally, a minor caveat. Hiromi is Love is really nothing more than a collection of 11 music videos -- and rather routine ones at that. No real attempt at a narrative thread or single song storyline. Just our singer looking fa-bo while silhouetted musicians play in the background. Yawn.
While it's clear that she isn't grasping for some last minute professional pardon, Hiromi Kanda's take on some of America's greatest songs is competent, if not compelling -- and that's a low down dirty shame.
Not Guilty. Though Ms. Kanda's grasp of English phrasing is questionable at
best, her song styling is impeccable. Too bad the music video presentation of it
all is so bland.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Gate
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 55 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Tracks
* Official Website