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Nguyen Le: Tales From Viet-nam

The hybridization of western and eastern cultures has most often borne offspring of surpassing strength and beauty; no surprise, then, that the fusion of jazz and Asian music cultures has provided some of the most adventurous and exhilarating recordings of the last decade. The examples include pioneering efforts by Fred Ho, Jon Jang, and Francis Wong; to that list you can now add the first of these albums by the Vietnamese-French guitarist Nguyen Le, the marvelous Tales From Viet-nam.

Leading an octet that includes horns and synths-as well as traditional Asian zithers and vocalist Huong Thanh’s intense evocations of her ancestral land-Nguyen Le has constructed an elegant and moving program, with most of the pieces derived from traditional Vietnamese melodies. The sweetly pungent trumpet work of Paolo Fresu provides yet another element, which Le exploits both as a western jazz instrument and as a descendant of the Asian bugles of antiquity. The piece entitled “The Rice Drum” proves emblematic in its use of trumpet, voice, and traditional percussion on the martial theme-before Le’s electric guitar screams in and completes the cross-cultural circuit.

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