Jazz guitarist and composer Nguyen Le has played with the French National Jazz Orchestra, the WDR Big Band with composer/conductor Vince Mendoza, and with several trios he assembled himself. In Tales from Viet-nam, he set out to blend jazz fusion with traditional Vietnamese music and musicians. This project offered a cultural examination of Le's family roots, as the Paris-born child of Vietnamese parents. All but one of the nine songs on Tales from Viet-nam are written around well-known, traditional Vietnamese songs, providing a culturally ancient backdrop for Le's fusion based arrangements and orchestration.
The sound of Tales from Viet-nam centers on female vocals in a scurrying, angular Oriental style. Other more traditional timbres come from the dan tranh, a kind of zither that makes a hammered string type of sound like that stereotypically associated with Oriental music, the sao flute, and sapek clappers that sound like a drum roll on a flat, wooden drum. The modern fusion sounds include a liquid, Allan Holdsworth style fusion lead guitar, acoustic and clean electric guitars, stand-up bass, trumpet and Harmon muted trumpet, and saxophone.
The music of Tales from Viet-nam moves from languid, Oriental flavored expositions, through fast melodic unison lines, and into tapping R&B fusion grooves that evoke late 60s fusion like Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew." Le's arrangements blend the modern and traditional instruments in both the more traditional and the more modern sounding parts of the music, including soprano saxophone in some of the quiet Oriental sounding zither and vocal passages, and the zither matching horns and guitar in the quick fusion runs. The ancient feel of the Vietnamese folk sounds matches Le's choice of a classic 60s/70s style of fusion to blend with the traditional music.
This reviewer doesn't have the background in Oriental or Vietnamese music to know whether Le has achieved his goal of melding traditional Vietnamese folk inspirations and instruments with modern fusion. Regardless of how well Tales from Viet-nam represents traditional Vietnamese music, the blending with classic fusion produces an Oriental flavored "world fusion" that is uniquely interesting and creative.