A reticent guitar hero born in Paris to Vietnamese parents, Nguyen Le has cast a wide stylistic net over his 30-year recording career, fusing jazz, rock, world music, and hip-hop. His newest release, Overseas, emphasizes Le’s far-reaching variations on traditional Vietnamese music. Its starting point was his score for Cirque-Nouveau, the live dance, acrobatics, and music performance project by Vietnamese director Tuan Le, once lead choreographer for Cirque du Soleil.
The opening track, “Noon Moon,” provides a rhythmic waltz-time shell game via bassist Chris Minh Doky, drummer Alex Tran, violinist Ngo Hong Quang, and vibraphonist Illya Amar through its first four minutes, after which Le shifts into high gear with a Jimi Hendrix-worthy solo for the final 90 seconds. The shape-shifting “People of the Waterfalls” employs the breathy beatbox of Trung Bao as an additional percussion instrument, inspiring the solos of Doky and Le before Bao’s own unaccompanied vocal break.
Much of the remainder is more atmospheric, incorporating the vocals of Quang, zither of Le Thi Van Mai, flute of Nguyen Hoang Anh, percussion of Minh Dan Moi, and trumpet of Cuong Vu into tracks within the seven-part “Overseas Suite” (highlighted by the soaring “Square Earth”) and closing two-part epic “Mother Goddess” (featuring the rousing coda of “Red Sky”). Throughout, the ever-gracious Le often passes the baton to his bandmates, occasionally surfacing for some signature, head-turning tonalities that invoke the influence of Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, and Jimmy Page as well as several musicians Le’s worked with in the past: Trilok Gurtu, Gary Husband, Paul McCandless, Mino Cinelu, and Meshell Ndegeocello. Overseas is the latest unique statement by one of the worldliest of world musicians.
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