Nguyên Lê Duos: Homescape

On the first couple of listens, Homescape exudes a tranquil, new age mood. Nguyên Lê’s guitars (acoustic, electric, fretless, e-bow and Vietnamese at various times) create relaxed settings with Paolo Fresu’s trumpet and flugelhorn, which are often capped with a Harmon mute, or Dhafer Youssef’s oud and strong, wailing voice. Programmed percussion fills out many of the tracks, and in one clever stroke, Lê adds backward sample of vocals from Papua, which drop a chant intermittently into the mix.

But deeper listens push the “new age” category to the side. “Safina” has a caustic edge since Lê’s guitar stands on the brink of feedback and Youssef’s voice emits a shrill accent. The guitar/oud duet on “Muqqam” has a bluesy tension running beneath it as well. Lê and Fresu perform a rubato reading of “Chelsea Bridge” that sounds like a ghostly meeting of Bill Frisell and Miles Davis.

Homescape began as a series of trumpet and guitar improvisations recorded in Lê’s home studio in Paris. The tracks with Youssef come from the same studio and some remixed live performances. All three musicians play with lyrical depth, but the album’s glacial movement, not to mention the gutless percussion, might easily lose all but the more lethargic listeners.