January 22, 2008
Nguyên Lê Duos - Homescape (2006)
Where does jazz stop and world music start? The boundaries are getting more blurred by the minute. We're all postmodernists now, and many musicians under fifty reflect a range of influences beyond those traditionally associated with their own core style. Some, like French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Le, are so polyglot as to be practically beyond category.
Le started out down the cultural miscenegation road with his first band, the multi-ethnic Ultramarine, whose 1989 album, De, was named World Music Album of the Year by the radical French newspaper Liberation. He's continued to mix it up ever since—prominent genre-benders he's worked with include Miroslav Vitous, Trilok Gurtu, David Liebman, Paul McCandless, Peter Erskine and Mino Cinelu. In the late 1990s Le became increasingly interested in Maghrebi music, working with Algerian singers Safy Boutella and Cheb Mami, and in 1998 he brought Maghrebi and Vietnamese musicians together on the album Maghrebi & Friends.
None of this, however, can prepare you for the galaxy of sound sources on Homescape, a series of alternating duets with Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and Tunisian oud player Dhafer Youssef. Some of these sources are developed and explored, others are referred to only in passing, and they include—but aren't limited to—post-Hendrix rock, Milesian harmon-mute free improv, Maghrebi trance music, Ellingtonia, ambient, a Papua New Guinea vocal choir (sampled and replayed backwards), Delta blues, Vietnamese folk tunes, flamenco, Iranian modes, a Sardinian choir, Australian aboriginal ritual music, French chanson, Gregorian chant, and Indonesian gamelan/gong music.
Guitars, trumpet/flugelhorn and oud aside, the music is generated by loops, samples and overdubs, and the entire heavily post-produced album was recorded and mixed in Le's Paris apartment - since 2003, his friends and neighbours Fresu and Youssef have been dropping by to home-record. The duets with Fresu are typically in free-improv mode (the exception being Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn's lovely “Chelsea Bridge”), while the Youssef duets tend to be song or structure-based.
In the main sunny and joyful, though not without some darker and more abrasive moments, the fifteen tracks—average length three minutes, a handful six or seven—resemble a series of round-the-world postcards sent by Le, who mixed and post-produced everything solo, to his collaborators. As a soundtrack to an evening communing with the big bamboo, the exotic and the very exotic drifting in and out of the mix, it's rich, colourful and beguiling.
Nguyen Lê: acoustic, fretless, synthesiser, e-bow and Vietnamese guitars, computer programming and electronics.
Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn and electronics.
Dhafer Youssef: oud, vocals and electronics.
Like what you hear, buy it! And support the artists that really need it.