In an interview with VN Style, songwriter Le Minh Son says, “Tung Duong has a masculine, passionate voice that sets him apart because many of his male peers sing like women. I can’t listen to them.” He makes a legitimate point. These days, Vietnamese male pop stars either sound feminine or sound like Tuan Ngoc. With disappointments, I have not been motivated to explore the recent crop until I encountered Tung Duong’s voice, an eccentric fusion of tenor and baritone. Although Duong is fresh on the scene, he comes across like a mature musician with a splendid technique and a fluid style all his own, and his debut Chay Tron, which featured seven songs written by Le Minh Son, proves it.
The title track “Chay Tron” is evidence of Duong’s jazz knowledge. He knows how to curl his voice around the smoky, elegant jazz phrases despite the sudden high tunes in Le Minh Son’s music. His wordless performance is also a phenomenon. His languorous voice and Trung Dong’s wistful trumpet weave in and out of one another, as if completing one another’s thoughts, sharing one another’s soul. Together they have created an exquisite harmony.
“Trang Khat” is a silky-smooth blues groove in which Duong’s powerful voice is complemented by Son’s intricate finger-picking guitar playing and rich composition style. Duong’s taste and understanding of jazz is proven through the weight he drops on each note and each rest over a hypnotic riff. Alongside Son’s guitar, Tran Manh Hung’s piano performance is a sensation. His fingers, which fall smoothly on the keys, create an irresistible tune.
Chay Tron, which means escape, is a perfect title because the album comes through with various shapes and sounds to provide listeners with pure escapisms. “Trang Khuyet” offers an experience that is reflectively modern and at the same time old-fashioned by the concoction of jazz and folk. On “Lua Mat Em,” the mid-tempo groove along with Duong’s skillful rendition produces an exceptional synthesis of pop and jazz. The album-closer “Oi Que Toi” breaks free from the folk traditional and takes listeners into an atmospheric ballad; however, the contemporary folk style from Thanh Lam’s version seems to work better.
Tung Duong shows tremendous potential as a young musician. He harnesses his intensity and virtuosity to create a stunning, rich in detail, and cohesive first album. He has chosen the right music for his voice. If there were one thing he needs to improve from this album, it would be his heavy breathing.