Nguyen Le: Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix (2002)
Hallelujah, somebody got it right! One of the banes of the fusion desk is the number of Hendrix knock-offs that come across it. Whether it be an outright tribute or just someone copping a half-dozen licks, nary a guitarist seems to be able to go long without conjuring up Jimi's long-dead ghost. So the arrival of French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Lé's new album came with a sense of trepidation... unfounded, as it turns out. Lé has created a nearly perfect tribute to Hendrix's spirit while retaining a good measure of originality.
The first big surprise is that the vocals are all by women: Terri Lyne Carrington (whose brisk drumming is a principal catalyst of the session) and Frenchwomen Corin Curschellas and Aida Khann. Khann takes the uniqueness a step further out by singing "Manic Depression," " If 6 Was 9" and "Voodoo Child" in the Bambara language, bringing Hendrix back to the African homeland. Carrington's vocals are sometimes spoken, as on "1983," which veils the music in an exotic mist. Curschellas' dulcet tones will be familiar to fans of Andreas Vollenweider, but she tones down the New Age elements for a beautiful performance on "Are You Experienced" and "Third Stone."
Another unusual flourish on the album is the occasional North African beat, courtesy of Karim Ziad's low-toned guimbri lyre or the sampled claps and vocals on "Voodoo Child," reminding us that voodoo culture also has its roots in the Motherland. Bassist Michel Alibo is marvelously flexible, maintaining the requisite grooves yet unafraid to bend them in other directions. Meshell Ndegeo'cello guests on "Voodoo Child" and "Experienced," sticking to solid bass grinding instead of vocals. Lé's guitar playing is downright impeccable, again holding Jimi close to to his heart without simply aping what has passed. His is a voice that should be heard more widely.
This release captures the true essence of fusion, a bringing together of disparate elements. Lé masterfully fuses pop music with foreign intrigue and the unexpected to deliver an album that, in many ways, reflects what both Hendrix and the fusion movement were really all about. Magnificent.
Track Listing: 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be); Manic Depression; Are You Experienced; Purple Haze; Burning of the Midnight Lamp; If 6 Was 9; Voodoo Child (Slight Return); South Saturn Delta; Up From the Skies; Third Stone From the Sun.
Personnel: Nguyen Le, guitars and guitar synth; Michel Alibo, Meshell Ndegeo'cello (3,7), electric bass; Terri Lyne Carrington, drums, vocals; Bojan Zulfikarpasic (1,6), acoustic and electric pianos; Aida Khann (2,6,7), Corin Curschellas (3,10), vocals; Karim Ziad (7), guimbri and North African percussion.