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Blog // Sounds
November 17, 2008

Fragile Beauty

Fragile Beauty is a collaboration between fusion-Jazz guitarist Nguyen Le and traditional Vietnamese vocalist Huoun Thanh. The pair were joined onstage by long-time collaborator Hao Nhien Pham (on a variety of Vietnamese instruments), Koto-player Mieko Miyazaki (who because of a baggage problem was playing the GuZheng), bassist Chris Jennings, percussionist Alex Tran and Dominique Borker […]

Fragile Beauty is a collaboration between fusion-Jazz guitarist Nguyen Le and traditional Vietnamese vocalist Huoun Thanh. The pair were joined onstage by long-time collaborator Hao Nhien Pham (on a variety of Vietnamese instruments), Koto-player Mieko Miyazaki (who because of a baggage problem was playing the GuZheng), bassist Chris Jennings, percussionist Alex Tran and Dominique Borker on keyboards and piano. This performance was part of the New Vision Arts festival (who also hosted last month’s stunning Netherlands Dans Theatre performance).

Going into the concert cold and unfamiliar with the group’s previous work, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Le was familiar from other projects and I greatly admire his playing. Whilst the music I heard in HaNoi last year was often mesmerising, there was a threshold, beyond which the repetition started to wear me out. It often felt like great melodies, with catchy embellishments, but a lack of what to my ear constitutes compelling harmony and structure.

By the end of the second song, the evocatively titled “Weaving and Awaiting” all my fears were allayed. The arrangements take these strong and beautiful Vietnamese melodies and build beneath and around them a rich and evocative soundscape. There’s a rhythmic pulse with African roots (Tran was at his best when playing the Cajon), a rich texture with weight coming from the upright bass and keyboards whilst leaving room for the gentler stringed sounds and a subtle and broadly filmic sensibility throughout the ensemble. That’s not to say it was all gentle and peaceful, as the band did let rip a few times with some seriously funky and rocking moments and Le (who soloed on most songs) had some very shred-worthy moments. This really was beautiful, delicate and absorbing music.

One of the highlights was Pham’s versatility on the traditional instruments and especially his playing on the Vietnamese Monochord. This is mesmerising instrument that really deserves a wider audience in world music and worked remarkably well playing alto countermelodies in this context.

Regrettably the City Hall far from full for this event. This kind of music is not a straightforward marketing proposition, but New Vision organisers deserve credit for booking such a interesting and original musical group. I came away, not just with an inspiring palate of ideas, but also with the feeling that I had witnessed a really fresh marriage of traditional music with modern harmony. Wonderful.

Responses
roy donkin 14 years ago

it does sound wonderful… I’ll have to seek it out

and Happy Birthday!

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