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Imperfect, but intriguing

Tales from Viet-Nam
Tales from Viet-Nam
By Nguyen Le

ACT / Blue Jackel Records: 1996

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This review first appeared in the December 20, 1996 issue of the North County Times.

Combining jazz and Vietnamese folk music, guitarist Nguyen Le presents and amalgam of East and West, old and new.

Le, a Frenchman of Vietnamese descent, brings together his mother's South Vietnamese folks songs with the European jazz he's earned his reputation playing. It doesn't always work, but when it does it's as charming as it is interesting.

To untrained Western ears, the Vietnamese portions sound quite similar to the music of southern China, with sing-song vocals in which each syllable wavers between two or more tones.

Vocalist Huong Thanh is the real star of the show, though. Her voice is soft and high, but there's a determination there that propels her to the front of the listener's awareness. On the third song, she engages in some wonderful call and response wtih saxophonist Simon Hansen.

Too often, however, the band falls short of truly blending the two traditions, instead settling for a semi-complementary co-existence. Which is too bad, because on the occasions where they click, the hybrid is quite listenable.