Jimi Hendrix's greatest quality was the way he engaged his audience. The warm powerful tones of his guitar playing, the near- spiritual journeys through new magical lands of guitar wizardry drew the listener in to share in an emotional embrace. Alas, elements of this Hendrix tribute album conspire to make it an impersonal, less earthy experience. Nguyên Lé's guitar tone is not so warm. Reedy guitar-synth patches suit the angular playing better heard on his 1996 album Tales from Vietnam. The overall impression is one of Scott Henderson without the blues, when the blues are foremost in Hendrix's music, preferably intoned with a visceral grungy Fender/Marshall voice. The new readings of classic songs lead us further afield. Familiar Hendrix motifs are sold short at the cost of sentimentality. Even lyrics have been translated into various lingoes.
Arguably tributes should embrace the honouree's contribution and then extend it in new directions. Lê fleetingly doffs his hat to Hendrix in his playing and in the liner notes but nevertheless does not make us understand his debt to him. Nor would one find sufficient indication of this from his previous work. Nonetheless, when he does crank up the reverb and sticks to the script, he can do quite a good imitation.
There is good support from the sidemen. Probably best known is Me'Shell NdegéOcello (Madonna, Chaka Khan, John Mellencamp) who lays down some plump fluid basslines on her two guest tracks, but gets eclipsed by Michael Alibo's funk bass, which gives an interesting contemporary twist on the other cuts. Most notable for her vocal work here is drum prodigy Terri Lynn Carrington (Wayne Shorter, John Scofield, Cassandra Wilson), who otherwise puts in a solid performance embellished by Karim Ziad's African percussion.
The album is generally wishy-washy and lacking direction. It does not sufficiently replicate Hendrix, nor extend the listening experience of Hendrix's music. There are blistering good acid jazz versions of Hendrix favourites, but these are too infrequent, dispersed between long sections of production effects. Highlights are a funked-up "Purple Haze," an Africanised "Voodoo Child [sic] (Slight Return)" and a take on "If 6 Was 9" similar to the R&B version Santana has been playing recently on tour.
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.