CD REVIEW: Nguyên Le & Ngô Hồng Quang – Hà Nội Duo

Nguyên Le & Ngô Hồng Quang – Hà Nội Duo
(ACT Records ACT9828-2. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Guitarist Nguyên Le’s albums have always been richly eclectic affairs. Born in Paris of Vietnamese ancestry, he has found a way of incorporating an unmistakeable Far Eastern timbre into the fusion-buzz of his electric guitar, creating a sound that is a perfect reflection of his multi-cultural character.

On this album, recorded in Paris in 2016, he shares headline status with the Vietnamese singer and multi-instrumentalist Ngô Hồng Quang, and the band also includes koto (Mieko Miyazaki), tablas (Prabhu Edouard), udu and cajon, as well as a guest appearance on four tracks by one of Nguyên’s regular collaborators, the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu.

The results are mostly gorgeous. Electric guitar and Vietnamese fiddle soar and slide in harmony, and Ngô has a richly expressive voice and an impressive range. Things get a little to prog-rocky and pompous on occasions but these soon pass.

It’s natural to compare this album with the ones Nguyên made in the first decade of this century with another Vietnamese singer, Huong Thanh. I hold those in particular affection, and such is the delicacy of Huong’s voice (one of the albums had the perfect title Fragile Beauty) that I suspect nothing in this genre will touch them, but Hà Nội Duo comes pretty close.

Try Ngô Hồng Quang’s composition The Graceful Seal, for some marvellous singing and guitar playing – it’s a representative track.

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