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Nguyên Lê & Ngô Hòng Quang

The Hà Nôi Duo

ACT 9828-2




feat. Paolo Fresu

1.Cloud Chamber

2.Five Senses

3.Like Mountain Birds

4.A Night With You, Gone

5.The Graceful Seal

6.Heaven’s Gourd

7.Chi?c Khan Piêu

8.Monkey Queen

9.Beggar’s Love Song

10.Silently Grows The Rice

Nguyên Lê:electric guitar, acoustic guitar (6), ebow (1&8) and sustainiac guitar (1,8&10) and programming (1,3,5,7&9)

Ngô Hòng Quang:vocals, Vietnamese fiddle, monocorde, lute & jew’s harp

Paolo Fresu:trumpet & flugelhorn

Mieko Miyazaki:koto

Prabhu Edouard:tablas, kanjira & pocket shaker

Stéphane Edouard:udu & shaker

Alex Tran:cajon

Rec. April-August 2016 Studio Louxor, Paris Barbès, France


In the ‘immortal’ words of Monty Python: “And now for something completely different” to which phrase I could add “with knobs on!” It is always refreshing to hear jazz musicians pushing the envelope though sometimes it is in the wrong direction for my liking; not so here. The Hà Nôi Duo consists of two musicians with different backgrounds but with a central shared core in that Ngô Hòng Quang was born in Vietnam and learned to play traditional Vietnamese instruments at his mother’s knee so to speak, going on to teach the art of playing these incredibly expressive instruments for some time at the Hanoi Conservatory of Music, later moving to The Netherlands to study composition at the Conservatory of Music in The Hague. Nguyên Lê on the other hand was born in France to Vietnamese parents and became a rock and jazz guitarist and who has a total of 18 discs in his discography either as leader or sideman. On this disc we have a mixture of original tunes, 3 by each of the two musicians and four traditional Vietnamese folksongs arranged by Nguyên Lê. Invited guests complete a line up full of contrasting interest with a truly international flavour: Paolo Fresu is a trumpet and flugelhorn player from Sardinia, Prabhu & Stephane Edouard are French born of South Indian origins, Mieko Miyazaki is a Japanese koto player and Alex Tran is another French born Vietnamese musician; a veritable melting pot indeed.

Discs such as this emphasise the breadth of influences that can be brought to bear on Jazz and how such fusions can create something totally new and exciting. With the exception of Fresu’s trumpet and flugelhorn and Nguyên Lê’s guitars all the instruments are unusual in a Jazz setting though shakers appear from time to time. It was fascinating to research the instruments and to discover the real name for my own Vietnamese fiddle: a Đàn nhi fiddle (in my next life I have promised myself that I will learn how to play it!).

The opening number immediately shocks at the outset with the otherworldly sound of ‘throat singing’ from Ngô Hòng Quang. This is also known as overtone singing and is practised mainly in Mongolia, Tibet and Vietnam. To do this the singer produces a fundamental pitch and, simultaneously, one or more pitches over that and the result here is totally unique and thrilling against a background of bell-like sounds. Just as you ask yourself how this is going to morph into a jazz number after a minute and a half it does and the result is extremely satisfying with the contrasts between those unusual instruments against the electric guitar and trumpet proving highly effective.

One of the truly amazing things that comes out of it all is the incredible degree of expression that can be obtained from a two string fiddle whose sound is said to replicate the human voice which is a pretty accurate description. It is so much more versatile than one could ever imagine and is clearly an essential element in Vietnamese music. Nguyên Lê’s guitar virtuosity can be in no doubt after hearing this disc and it immediately makes the listener feel they have got to hear his other discs. All the tunes have a fundamentally gentle sound; there’s no ‘blood on the carpet’ in any of them but that is not in any way a criticism for it has proven itself to be a disc I want to hear over and over again getting more from it on each occasion.

Another profoundly surprising sound world is created by the jews harp and if you thought you knew how one sounds think again until you’ve heard Ngô Hòng Quang’s ‘playing’ of it while overtone singing at the same time (!). This he does in The Graceful Seal to great effect. Apparently rather than using the teeth, as is the way we in the West use when playing the jews harp, in the Orient they are played using the lips which are altered in shape to produce the different sounds and some fascinating videos are available to watch on YouTube where you can see Mongolians playing them while overtone singing and they are well worth watching. Every number is a great listen and the fusion of sounds of Vietnam and those of Western Jazz is a revelation. Each instrument used has a vital role in the overall sound world created here and apart from the The Hà Nôi Duo Paolo Fresu’s trumpet and flugelhorn are beautifully played and he is another musician who has encouraged me to look for any of his previous discs. The use of tablas by Prabhu Edouard fits in so well despite coming from a completely different tradition to either of the two main musicians’ origins as does the koto, Japan’s national instrument though it does have a ‘relative’ in the Vietnamese dàn tranh and its zither-like sound is another that sits so well with the others. It was interesting to learn the real name for the box used by musicians to produce a drum-like sound which I had always thought was...well, just a box when it is an authentic instrument known as a cajon and which makes its presence felt in Beggar’s Love Song. This is a disc that astounds and thrills in equal measure and I recommend it highly for its unique take on ‘crossover’ or fusion; don’t miss it!

Steve Arloff

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