Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Huong Thanh & Nguyen Le: the new Vietnam

Huong Thanh & Nguyen Le
Fragile Beauty
ACT Music (www.actmusic.com)

I am not familiar with a lot of Vietnamese music, so it is nice to ease into it with this set of fusion-minded songs by vocalist Huong Thanh and guitarist Nguyen Le. There's a fair number of traditional pieces interpreted here, though the arrangements incorporate African and Latin rhythms, jazz structures, Japanese splendor and more, along with an unforced grace that never piles on too much diversity for the sake of making 'world music.' Huong Thanh's voice reflects what the title suggests: grace without excess, whether the song is rich with instrumental interplay or unadorned. Guitars, bass, piano, brass, reeds, synthesizer and a range of percussion blend unassumingly with bamboo balafon and flutes, monocorde and koto, bringing out the best of several respective worlds while giving Huong Thanh's measured, solitary singing a support that varies nicely in tone and intricacy. There are hints of electronica here and there, moody interludes between easygoing grooves and above all a sense of blissful throughout. I've no idea what Vietnamese music purists would make of a disc like this, but it sounds great to me. - Tom Orr

CD at cdRoots