Quoc Trung / Nguyen Le / Dhafer Youssef / Thanh Lam / Rhani Krija / Kieu Anh: Hanoi, Vietnam, September, 1, 2012
The aptly title "Graceful Bamboo" began the second set, with Hoàng Anh's lilting flute gliding over washing keys and a simple frame drum rhythm. The flautist was a key element in the mix throughout the concert and displayed tremendous versatility on array of various-sized flutes. Anh's most restrainedthough quite beguilingvocal performance of the set led into a highly melodic refrain played simultaneously by zither, guitar, flute and keys. Trung was a subtle yet constant presence throughout, coloring the music with dreamy minimalism. On "Streamline" his sparse, sci-fi lyricism offered striking contrast to Anh's gentle, more earthbound ululations. A lengthy ambient mid-section suddenly blossomed into a powerfully stated group melody, with Anh's cry rising above the collective voice.
The upbeat "Drifting Away"the least overtly Vietnamese song of the eveningfeatured a drum duet, with Kajira's fingers a blur on goblet drum while Cường worked his more conventional kit, given local color by several Vietnamese ceremonial drums. On either side of the percussion fest, Xuân Diệu's Vietnamese rap provided a teasing entre into his frenzied erhu solo, and Lê delivered a lively jazz-rock solo over a band riff that sounded like guitarist Santana's cranked-up version of timbale legend Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va."
Deep keyboard drone and Cường's thunderous drum rolls provided stark contrast to Diệu's folksy lyricism on Vietnamese lute at the beginning of "The Legend Story." Trung's computerized bell effects and Lê's sinuous lines served as a backdrop to Youssef's high-pitched vocal gymnastics and Anh's equally striking vocal turn. Lê's most adventurous solo of the set began with measured phrases that were melodic and emotive but gathering wind in his sails, he soon launched into a repeated riff that gathered up the band around him, before launching into fierce, Jimi Hendrix-inspired soloing.
Whilst Lê's high-energy soloing exhibited rock and jazz-fusion roots, these show-stealing interjections were sparingly used, and further illustrated the wide reach of his influences. However, for the most part, the guitarist's jazz-centric accompaniment was subtly impressionistic, blending with the other instruments to add another hue to the melodies. At times, his elegant bending lines sounded zither-like, and at others he conjured West African soundscapes. His use of loops was understated and lent sotto voce atmospherics to the ensemble sound.
Singer Thanh Lam was a distinctive presence on the stage for several numbers. An important Vietnamese pop singer since the 1990s, Lam's spirit of adventure has brought her to explore jazz, notably with pianist Niels Lan Doky, and her singing combined operatic-rock delivery with a rootsy soul not dissimilar to Algerian rai singer Cheikha Rimitti. Her seductive melodic phrasing on Trung's memorable ballad, "Mây trắng bay về," accompanied by flute, keys and goblet drum, contrasted with her powerful, stage-savvy performance on "Tò vò," a rock number whose dancing rhythm was colored by Lê's distinctly African-flavored guitar lines. "GIữa đôi bờ xa cách"a pop-rock epic with Afro-Celtic tonesfeatured a stunning vocal duet between Lam and Youssef over rousing percussion.
The encore, "Hề mồi," stemmed from a traditional melody played on zither, flute, guitar and keys over an unrelenting goblet drum rhythm, gradually giving way to a series of breathless call-and-response exchanges between the musicians, as they traded playfully in a signing-off jam. As the applause died down, Krija took the microphone to give thanks to the hosts, praising "the spirit of the country." Nowhere is the spirit of Vietnam better represented than in its rich musical tradition, and as this highly memorable concert demonstrated, it would be folly for Vietnamese youth to cast aside the old in favor of the new, when the two work so beautifully together.
All Photos: Courtesy of Trongtung Nguyen