Nguyên Lê - Signature Edition 1
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The FLY offices were buzzin’ last year with the arrival of the “magic” Nguyên Lê album Saiyuki so this compilation that spans 20 years of his career is a more than timely release.
Saiyuki is the French guitarist’s fifth album for ACT but the Parisian (born to Vietnamese parents) was a bit of a late comer to recording as a solo artist as it wasn’t until his early thirties he released Miracles. Since then he’s worked with most of the European elite jazz musicians including Vince Mendoza, Peter Erskine, Terri Lyne Carrington, Renaud Garcia-Fons, Paolo Frescu, Paul McCandless and many more as well as being a regular soloist with the WDR Big Band.
Kicking off with a previously unreleased track, appropriately entitled ‘Magic Constant’ this is definitely a track that’s up with the constant magic of Saiyuki featuring , Mieko Miyazaki (koto) and Prabhu Edouard (tablas, percussion). ‘Sangam’ is also included from that album but don’t be too eager to judge that this is his best work to-date.
So what of his past? Well he’s probably best known for his work with E_L_B (Erskine, Lê and Michel Benita) and his Jimi Hendrix Project but there’s more going on than just that.
It seems that you can’t take Hendrix out of an axe man and his version of ‘Voodoo Child’ (including singer-songwriter, rapper and multi-instrumentalist Me’Shell NdegéOcello on bass) is a fantastic mix of psych fusion jazz-world, with Aida Khann on vocals who gets really in the voodoo whilst Lê shows off his rock credentials.
In total contrast, the other unreleased track ‘Louxor Dance’ is duet with Lê and Paolo Fresu (trumpet) in post-Miles trip-hop mode and then flip again with the Nguyên Lê Quartet’s ‘Snow On A Flower’ (featuring McCandless on soprano sax).
I’ve said it before, when you hear music such as the Saigon’s Huong Thanh’s it’s hard not to hear the refrain of Charlie Gillett but her singing is so much his thing; she’s represented a couple of times on each CD including her tradition ‘Cold Winter, Faraway Land’ and in a Thanh/Lê fusion on ‘Weaving & Awaiting’.
Somebody else that doesn’t mind a bit of collaboration is Dhafer Youssef (last seen here on Divine Shadows) and together with Lê, they break down a Coryell-style theme. And taking of 70s idols, ‘Kokopanitsea’ by E_L_B is so authentic, it could have been recorded in ‘78 instead of 2008.
More of the Coryell/McLaughlin guitar fusion sound can be had on CD2 with tracks from 1997’s Three Trios with ‘Dance Of The Comet’ but his composition ‘Foow’ shows off more of his musical travels in a trio set up.
Writing with Karim Ziad (who was also on ‘Voodoo Child’), it’s off to North Africa (‘L’Arkha Li Jeya’ and ‘Ifrikyia’ being particularly good) and then there’s a couple of traditional Vietnamese songs from his Tales From Viet-Nam album, both featuring Huong Thanh. Both tracks are very East meets West but what he manages to achieve in the arrangements is a balance, different to the rest of the 22 tracks, but in harmony in style at the same time; like a musical Tai-Chi.
The double CD set finishes at the start with the multi-ethnic band Ultramarine (‘U Song’ from 1989) and his first solo album title track, ‘Miracles’. Both show that Lê’s early fusions of Vietnamese music traditions and contemporary jazz was merely a foretaste of what was to come.
So, from 1989 to 2009, Lê has travelled the world of music and Signature Edition 1 is a true celebration of his best works. As a guitarist, he’s up with the likes of John Abercrombie, Ulf Wakenius, Eivind Aarset and Larry Coryell but as a musician, he’s in a world of his own - now that’s a recommendation if I’ve ever heard one!
ACT’s Signature Edition is released to celebrate label boss Siggi Loch’s 50th anniversary in the business but unlike other compilations, the artists are not restricted to music just on the ACT label so providing a truer career overview. The other 3 in this set are by the afore mentioned guitarist Ulf Wakenius, bassist/cellist/pianist Lars Danielsson and drummer Wolfgang Haffner so prepared to be impressed.
Reviewed: Nguyên Lê - Nguyên Lê Signature Edition 1 (ACT) Cat. No. ACT 6004-2 Release date: 26th April 2006
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