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Huong Thanh & Nguyen Le: Fragile Beauty

Mark F. Turner By

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Fragile Beauty is a continuing collaboration between Vietnamese-born singer Huong Thanh and guitarist Nguyen Le. This is their fourth album together, following works under Thanh's name with Le as the producer, co-composer and lead musician. Both are based in Paris—Thanh a well-known singer in popular, traditional and theatrical circles, and Le, a tremendous player who has quietly made striking statements in jazz and progressive music including Purple (ACT, 2007), an imaginative tribute to guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Fragile Beauty personifies "world music" that combines Vietnamese folk-songs/poetry with African, Japanese, and western influences. Thanh's voice is as lovely, evocative and mysterious as her homeland. Each song seems to tell a story, as her singing, coupled with Le's thoughtful compositions (articulated by skilled performers), provides aural landscapes that have the dichotomy of being timeless and contemporary. The delicate balance of voice, atmosphere and instrument comes to life on "Drifting On The Water," as Thanh's singing is exquisitely accompanied by guitar and piano. Its message can still be appreciated even if you don't comprehend the language.

Le is a master of persuasively fusing the old and new via programming, sampling and stylistic imprints. "The Swallow's Bridge" starts in a peaceful country setting, then moves into a metro-groove as Thanh playfully sings against a jazz-pop background with synth-horns (both real and programmed) and an infectious drum/bass tempo with multiple string threads. Or one can admire his signature guitar on "Weaving & Awaiting" and the flute-song of "Plantation Song," with its array of instruments including koto, fretless bass, percussion, and soprano sax.

The musical settings are also varied and splendidly detailed. The ubiquitous blues on the moving title song and "The Five Calls of The Night" where the sounds of slight rock guitar, a Miles Davis muted trumpet and Thanh's yearning inflections each add to the tune's persona. From the optimism of "Rowing the Sampan"(a Vietnam Rowers' work song), the bucolic tone of "Go Cong Blues," to the exoticism of "Tales Of The Mountain," Fragile Beauty suggests that music can indeed make the world a smaller place.

Visit Huong Thanh and Nguyen Le on the web.

Track Listing: Drifting on the Water; Weaving & Awaiting; Faithfulness; Plantation Song; The Five Calls of the Night; Fragile Beauty; Rowing the Sampan; The Pavilion of Crystallized Azure; At Dusk, from the West Balcony; Go Cong Blues; The Swallows' Bridge; Tales of the Mountain.

Personnel: Huong Thanh: voice; Nguyen Le: steel-string acoustic guitar (1,), electric guitar (2, 3, 6-9, 11, 12),programming (2, 4, 9, 11, 12), samples (2, 4, 9, 11, 12), nylon-string acoustic guitar (4), fretless guitar (5,9), sampling (5); Dominique Borker; piano (1, 6); Renaud Garcia-Fons: 5-string acoustic bass (1, 6, 10); Francis Lassus: brushes (1, 9), pandeiro (1, 4), cymbals (1, 12), sanza (9); Mieko Miyazaki: koto (2-4, 6, 8, 11); Hao NhiȪn: d

Title: Fragile Beauty | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ACT Music

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