On her debut Moon and Wind, Huong Thanh, daughter of an accomplished Vietnamese opera (cai luong) singer Huu Phuoc, gives Vietnamese folk music a contemporary flavor. Thanks to her producer Nguyen Le who is brilliant at weaving traditional melodies with western instruments, the album is a multicultural splendor.
With clear enunciation, pitch-perfect vocals and pliable delivery, Huong Thanh applies her exoticness to any folk tune regardless of its region (south, north or central). Yet, what makes her performances stand out is that she doesn’t belt out like Phi Nhung or screech high like Nhu Quynh. Her soft, gentle approach works just fine. Her rendition of “Co La” (The Soaring of the Heron) is both playful and adorable. The hand-clapped effect provided by Tino Di Geraldo’s palmas added a spontaneous Latin rhythmic to the tune. On “Coi Nguoi” (The Source), she gives a recital of folk lullaby from the south, and then heads up north on “Ru Con Mien Bac” (All is Peace). The differences in accentuation demonstrate her versatility in conveying the aesthetic beauties of each coast.
“Sam Hue Tinh” (One River Two Streams) has to be my favorite track on the album. The sound of Karim Ziad’s charming gumbri (bass) cascaded with Paolo Fresu’s exquisite muted trumpet flowed behind Huong Thanh’s sensuous Hue accent is ear-opening. The harmony comes together like a lustrous potpourri. If Miles Davis was still alive and he knew the possibility of mixing jazz into Vietnamese folk music, he would have moved beyond fusion. With the speed Miles pushed his music and his keenness for new sounds, we might have had a Sketches of Viet Nam arranged and conducted by Nguyen Le. Who knows?
On “Ly Qua Cau” (Crossing the Bridge) “Ly Con Sao” (Blackbird Song), songbird Huong Thanh flies to the south with her enchanting voice supported by the calm but colorful arrangements. Then she travels back to Hue with “Ho Hue” (The Awaiting) and “Ai Ra Xu Hue” (Going Back to Hue). Again, her Hue intonation is irresistible on these two tracks. I know, I love Hue female voices, what can I say?