MOON and WIND  Huong Thanh, 1999

Joy of joys, world music listeners' ears have alighted upon the Vietnamese guitarist & general music mover Nguyên Lê. He is the driving force behind this enchanting disc from Paris-based singer. Soaring above the spacious lanscape is the marvelous voice of Huong Thanh, as exquisite & subtle as bridsong. This is deeply spiritual, highly sensual & very intelligent music that communicates perfectly across the cultures. *****

World CD of the week, Birmingham Post (UK), oct 1999

This woman has a voice that might melt glaciers & make deserts bloom with roses. You get some of the best music being made in today's shrinking world: absoltutely rooted, modern as it gets. Killer Album!

Ian Anderson, Folk Roots (UK), nov. 1999

DRAGONFLY   Huong Thanh, 2001

This is evocative world music, produced and performed on by the Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Le. At times, though, it strays into his territory of western jazzy electronics and funk, infused with the sound effects and melodic associations of Vietnamese music. Huong Thanh is a vocalist rooted in the glottal manipulations, high, trilling sounds and soft mid-range intonations of the region's traditional techniques, and this is a project that imports her remarkable sound into a mix of contemporary global and indigenous contexts. Dix Raisons D'Aimer finds Huong gliding delicately through an undergrowth of Vietnamese flutes and zithers, before Nguyen's echoing samples and stealthily advancing tabla grooves modernise its atmosphere. The title track mingles the Vietnamese with the African, as

Richard Bona's vocal chant intertwines with the leader's feline phrasing, and Ce Que Dit l'Oiseau, full of rustling percussion, finds Huong more mellow, sonorous and playful. Only marginally jazz-affiliated, but the textures are wonderful.

Guardian, UK nov 2001


By Mitchell Feldman, DOWN BEAT

     An increasing number of musicians consider Paris – which has enjoyed a reputation as a haven for artists for centuries and has become progressively cosmopolitan as waves of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Eastern European immigrants continue to settle there – the most stimulating city in which to live, work and play today.

     Guitarist Nguyên Lê, born Paris in 1959 to Vietnamese parents who came there from Hanoi to attend college, embodies the exotic multi-cultural mosaic fueling the vibrant jazz and world music scenes flourishing in the French capital. A self-taught musician who started playing drums at 15 before switching to guitar and electric bass, Lê has developed a distinctive sound that draws upon rock, funk and jazz as well as traditional Algerian, Indian and Vietnamese styles. The five albums he has released as a leader on the German label ACT since 1995 include Tales From Vietnam on which he explores and celebrates his roots, the North African flavored Maghreb & Friends and Bakida on which he augments his preferred format, the trio of guitar, bass and drums, with guest soloists Chris Potter, Paolo Fresu, Kudsi Erguner and Jan Balke.

     “I was always more interested in making my own music than copying songs I heard on the radio or records and began improvising from the start,” Lê explained while drinking tea in the living room of his apartment in the Barbes district of Paris, the preferred quarter of the city’s Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan residents. “The first group that really moved me was Deep Purple,” he continued, “and after hard rock I got into progressive bands like King Crimson and Genesis and eventually the fusion of Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then I found jazz and entered my ‘Real Book’ period during which I learned a lot of standards, discovered Wes Montgomery and began playing a big hollow-bodied Gibson 175.” He cites Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt and early Steve Vai as other important inspirations.

    A sonic sorcerer in the same league as Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and John Abercrombie, Lê plays a custom guitar made by James Trussard and is a wizard with state-of-the-art synthesizer and computer technologies. He began composing on a Macintosh five years ago and has set up an impressive home studio/office containing the drives, monitors and peripherals he uses to record and mix select projects like his 1999 CD Moon And Wind with the Vietnamese vocalist Huong Thanh.

      Lê’s world music adventures began after he met Mario Canonge, a pianist from Martinique, and they formed a band that initially played tunes by Wayne Shorter among others. “Mario introduced me to the beguine and salsa and I was fascinated by the rhythms of these and other Latin styles,” Lê recalled. “I thought we should be playing our own music and in 1983 we started Ultramarine, one of two bands in Paris playing ethno-jazz at the time.”

    Drummer Peter Erskine and pianist Art Lande, who appear on Miracles, Lê’s 1990 recording debut as a leader, met the guitarist in the late 1980s and are two of his most avid fans and enthusiastic collaborators. The trio Erskine formed with Lê and bassist Michel Benita released the CD E-L-B in May 2001 and the drummer praises “Nguyen’s sound and his unique sensibilities and experiences as a player that enable him to create the type of effortless form of world music we talked about during the Weather Report days.”

      Lê returned to the U.S. for the first time since 1997 to perform in a quintet featuring Lande and Paul McCandless in February 2002. Lande calls Lê “an important if not central figure in modern world music. He has a wider range of expression than most people and can play with heat or be poignant and plaintive. The synthesizer universes Nguyen creates are unique and he can access them immediately. He hears something and makes it happen right on the spot and always chooses the perfect situation in a piece in which to engage them.”


The accomplished French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê is one of the most creative of the many jazz players exploring the marriage of « America’s classical music » with traditional music from everywhere else. He focuses on his roots in Vietnam, but does not stop there.

Mike Zwerin International Herald Tribune 27/01/2001

Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix (2002)

Hallelujah, somebody got it right! Lé has created a nearly perfect tribute to Hendrix's spirit while retaining a good measure of originality. Lé's guitar playing is downright impeccable, again holding Jimi close to to his heart without simply aping what has passed. His is a voice that should be heard more widely. This release captures the true essence of fusion, a bringing together of disparate elements. Lé masterfully fuses pop music with foreign intrigue and the unexpected to deliver an album that, in many ways, reflects what both Hendrix and the fusion movement were really all about. Magnificent.

All About Jazz, Todd S. Jenkins, 2002

Nguyên Lê is a masterful, inventive player who has cultivated a wholly unique voice on the intsrument, he ranks right up there with Frisell, John Scofield, Mike Stern an Allan Holdsworth in the post-Hendrix world of jazz guitar.

Purple has the talented guitarist-arranger radically recasting several familiar Hendrix themes while also showcasing Lê's monstrous chops.

Bill Milkowski, Jazztimes (USA) may 2004

Well, unlikely as it sounds, the odd blend works. It really does. All of the Hendrix songs are instantly recognisable and yet strikingly different from the original. It feels to me like, through some strange alchemical process, Nguyen Le has managed to extract the essence of the songs and rewrite them using this essence as their core.

For example, take Purple Haze. Pure genius. The powerful rhythmic drive of If Six Was Nine is a fruitful context for a long guitar improvisation by Nguyen Le in which he displays both his mastery of the Hendrixian sound and his credentials as a jazz guitarist.

To me, the greatest thing about this record, is that it really emphasises Hendrix as an outstanding composer, a talent that is often clouded by Hendrix’s fire as an interpreter and showman.

ELB, Peter Erskine/Nguyên Lê/Michel Benita

5.0 out of 5 stars

A total revelation

Lê sounds like no one I've heard before yet he sounds like a number of people. This dude certainly has his own sound. It's the best darn jazz I've heard in a while with some of the most intriguing guitar work I've EVER heard.

Olukayode Balogun (Leeds, England) February 16, 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars

Simply a great band

No one plays the guitar like Nguyen Le. In the last analysis, he's entirely his own man, and over the course of about 15 years of public performance he has developed a unique concept and voice. One thing that immediately sets him apart is a wonderful and mysterious oriental-sounding approach he often deploys, especially on his own tunes ("ZigZag," "Pong," "Sao Sen," and "Bee"), often combined with a prog-rock feel. Possessed of huge and uncanny technique (check out his tweaked harmonics on "Autumn Rose"), he has honed his chops to the point that there seems to be little he can't do.

I have four other discs by him as leader, but this one strikes me as by far his best, certainly a distinct move forward. Perhaps he's finally settled on his ultimate band; perhaps all those years performing and woodshedding have just enabled him to reach critical mass.

I do know something special is going down here. Actually, this isn't really Le's band; it's a guitar trio functioning as a complete democracy--which is entirely appropriate, given the three players' levels of accomplishment. Of the eleven tracks, Le wrote four, Peter Erskine (drums) wrote four, and Michel Benita (double-bass) wrote three. These are formidable musicians, each with vita that ranks them among the top echelon of players of their instrument. Each also displays a distinct and powerful musical personality, generally equal to Le's own amazingly strong and defined style. Still, it's hard for me to think of this as anything but Le's gig. I guess it's the uniqueness of his concept, the breadth of his tonal palette, and the intrigue and scope of his songs that make me think of it as his gig. His being the single lead instrument, at least in any traditional sense of the word, also tends to vault him onto center stage.

Jan P. Dennis "Longboard jazzer" (Monument, CO USA), January 31, 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars

Advancing the guitar trio

I can't help chiming in. This is a democratic trio, but Le is certainly the attention getter. His style is so facile that I'm afraid he'll be seen as constantly in some one else's foot steps. To me he comes in some where between Frisell and Scofield (he can dial up that early Scofield tone with frightening ease). But that would be an unfair assessment. He has integrated much that has gone before him and made it his own. It's beautiful guitar work..

THX1138b (NY USA), April 27, 2004

BAKIDA, Nguyên Lê Trio

Every instrument on Nguyen Le's Bakida (ACT/HighNote) sounds absolutely huge. This is "world fusion" that in fact transcends all categories. Hair-raising in its impact, it is nonetheless undertaken with a great deal of nuance. The French-Vietnamese leader and his trio partners (Renaud Garcia-Fons on acoustic five-string bass, Tino di Geraldo on drums/percussion) are the most formidable of virtuosos, and they interact with an international cast of guests, including tenorist Chris Potter, electric bassist Carles Benavent of Spain, trumpeter Paolo Fresu of Italy and pianist Jon Balke of Norway. Le's fierce solidbody work meshes with the hypnotic sound of ney flute, gumbri, marimba, tuned gongs and more, and never do these things sound gimmicky or superficial. The writing (mostly Le's) is rich in harmonic and rhythmic detail; highlights include the mountainous guitar solo of "Dding Dek," the two-bass improv of "Encanto," the furious exchanges of Potter and Le on "Chinoir" and the astounding arco bass on "Noche y Luz." To hear a recording produced this well is rare. The only drag is that U.S. listeners had to wait four years for it.

David R. Adler, Jazztimes, april 2005

WALKING ON THE TIGER'S TAIL  Nguyên Lê Quartet, 2005

The titles of the tunes often draw on Taoist philosophy for their inspiration, and while the music is often very beautiful, don’t let names such as « Yielding Water » or « Butterfly Dream » seduce you into thinking that it is going to fall into a dreamy, new-age style bag. This is a tough-minded and imaginative contemporary jazz with a strong rock undertone and a leavening of ethnic influences, not only from the guitarist’s Vietnamese heritage, but also from Africa. The fluid, energised, richly layered soundscapes they create are wholly absorbing,

Kenny Mathieson, Jazzwise UK, march 2005   * * * *

Thursday, October 26 On the Boards, 8pm

NguyÊn LÊ — Tiger’s Tail Quartet

The spectacular, much-traveled guitarist, on his first-ever US tour, presents a stellar group with Art Lande (piano), Paul McCandless (reeds), and Patrice Héral (percussion). Nguyên Lê exemplifies how much great jazz lurks outside most American fans' awareness. For over 20 years, he has been prized in his native France, where he has melded the numerous streams of multi-ethnic culture that course through Paris. He blends African, Asian, and American musical languages in stunning, dynamic style, with a virtuosity that is of the highest order.

Program for Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle, oct 2006

Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Le also turned in a stunning Seattle appearance this fall. Le’s recent recordings cover a wide breadth of musical possibilities, from almost-traditional Vietnamese musical duets with vocalist Huang Than to a slamming collection of Jimi Hendrix covers (Purple, ACT Records) with Terri-Lynn Carrington and Meshell N’Degeocello. Covering the rich middle ground between those musical poles are two CDs, also on the ACT label, called Tiger’s Tail and Tales from Vietnam. They’re all good.

KEXP’s year in review, John Gilbreath, THe Year in Jazz, Seattle, nov 2006

Lê makes ample use of Vietnamese tonality on guitar, creating a singular voice that rivals other contemporary jazz guitarists like Pat Matheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell. That unique voice is what cuts through and stays consistent on his recordings, which can range from electro-acoustic walls of sound to funky smooth jazz and haunting traditional ballads. This show at On the Boards is not to be missed.

International Examiner, The journal of the Northwest Asian Pacific American communities

HOMESCAPE   Nguyên Lê duos with Dhafer Youssef & Paolo Fresu, 2006

Guitarist Nguyên Lê has been as relentless as Pat Metheny when it comes to sound. He’s no stranger to the concept of sonic manipulation and editing in post-production, but Homescape is the most sculpted record of his career, relying on his shaping the sound after the fact... Lê understands narrative, and while the performances in and of themselves are wonderful, the cohesive aural travelogue experience of Homescape is what makes it an hour worth spending again and again.

John Kelman, All About Jazz, dec 2006

101 Forgotten Greats & Unsung Heroes

Nguyên Lê

Unfortunately, Fusion has become a bad word for jazz connoisseurs, but not on Nguyên Lê’s watch. Magically weaving middle-eastern & southeast Asian textures with contemporary jazz-rock grooves, the world fusion of this French-Vietnamese guitarist delivers all the sonic glories a music lover could hope to hear in a genre that aims to melt cultures & styles. A master of timbre & inflection, Lê is perhaps the Joe Zawinul of guitar.

JG, Guitar Player USA, feb 2007

FRAGILE BEAUTY 4th Huong Thanh's album

Fragile Beauty simply is an album that captures the heart from the first note and leaves it hungering for more as the last one fades.

John Kelman, All About Jazz (US) jan. 2008

The musical settings are varied & splendidly detailed. Fragile Beauty suggest that music can indeed make the world a smaller place.

Mark F. Turner, All About Jazz (US) april 2008

Lê's arrangements are varied in tone & texture, but almost all are both strange & wonderful, & his guitar solos are exquisite. "Tales of the Mountain" is one of the most softly impressive songs on an album which is full of both sweet melodic beauty & subtly dense complexity. Very highly recommended.

Rick Anderson, All Music Guide (US) Feb 2008

There's little doubt that some of the finest Vietnamese music of recent years has been made in Paris by singer Huong Thanh & Parisian-born guitarist Nguyên Lê. In these days of self-produced self-released artist albums, this album is a masterclass in the dying art of a producer extracting & honing the talents of a singer.

Sebastian Spiller, FRoots Magazine (UK) March 2008

Fragile Beauty FRoots Playlist (10 best albums of january 2008) - "The return of the vietnamese maestros"

There is a simplicity, yet profundity, in this music that is timeless, its very fragility strangely moving.

Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise (UK) feb 2008

The lasting impression is of purity. Sweet Buddhist melancholia has never been more seductive.

Alan Brownlee, Manchester Evening News (UK), feb 2008

Over the last decade the Paris-based singer & the guitarist & producer Nguyên Lê have developed a unique musical style blending Vietnamese traditional song with jazz harmonies & global sounds. With Fragile Beauty they have produced their most mature & successful album since the widely acclaimed 2001 release Dragonfly. Beauty maybe ephemeral, but this music at least gives us some beautiful moments to savour.

"Top of the World Album"

Barly Norton, Songlines, Collector's Edition (UK), march 2008

"Five to Hear" Fragile Beauty The Guardian (UK), Feb 8th, 2008

Fragile Beauty : Soundcheck's CD Picks of the week, Gisele Regatao, WNYC Radio (US), feb 2008

DREAM FLIGHT 2nd ELB album, 2008

This highly talented transcontinental trio comes over in spades with absolutely terrific playing from all three. Nguyen Le is wringing extraordinairy sounds & superb playing. This is a great ensemble captured here at their very best.

DD, Hi-Fi + (UK) June 2008

This is a jazz-fusion tinted album that is designed with eloquence and firepower. It's a "dream flight" presented by a "dream band."

(Zealously recommended.)

Glenn Astarita, (US) July 2008

Nguyên Lê is widely acknowleged as one of the most creative electric guitarists & improvisers in the post-Frisell era.

Bill Milkowski, Jazztimes USA, aug 2008

This set represents Lê's appeal at its broadest, with an engaging east-west originality & microtonal shimmer & the formidable partnership of Peter Erskine & Michel Benita.

JF, The Guardian (UK), June 13, 2008


The Independent (UK), 26 april > 2nd may 2008

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