Hong Nhung – Nhu Canh Vac Bay

Hong Nhung is a minimalist; therefore, she understands that less is more. Her approach to music—the latest Trinh Cong Son’s tribute, Nhu Canh Vac Bay, in particular—is similar to my design’s methodology. We simplify our crafts to communicate the message. We eliminate the unnecessary to allow the necessary speaks. We leave out bells and whistles to focus on the core value: the emotion.

Used to be one of Trinh Cong Son’s protégés, babes, and confidantes, Hong Nhung knows well how his songs to be sung. She also recognizes the strength in his lyrics: simple on the surface, and yet so meaningful in the inner level, especially his skillful wordplays. By stripping down his signature pieces—”Toi Ru Em Ngu,” “Nhu Canh Vac Bay,” “Tuoi Da Buon,” and “Nay Em Co Nho”—to their emotional chord, she expresses life, embraces hope, and caresses love through her honesty and sincerity. Accompanied by either a strumming guitar or comping piano, she takes her time to articulate Trinh’s words, embellish his melodies, and reach deeper into his poetries. The results of her performances are intimate, personal, and approachable. My selfishness is the one-on-one experience. Whenever I listen to a singer, I want to feel that she sings to me only and no one else. That’s the kind of directness I demand, and that’s what she has delivered.

On the more playful numbers—the blues-inspired “Mot Coi Di Ve,” the Latin-inflected “Nhin Nhung Mua Thu Di,” and the bossa nova-grooved “Roi Nhu Da Ngay Ngo”—I wish Hong Nhung has loosen up a bit, even though I adore all of these three pieces. She has done a fabulous job of jazzing up Trinh’s standards with her accomplished, effortless flow; however, there is still room for improvisation. I am awared that she wants to present these songs according to her honey’s intention, but I am sure she could bend his notes, invent rhythmic structures, and play with her vocal timbre to create jazz’s characteristics. As I was enjoying her invigorating rendition of “Roi Nhu Da Ngay Ngo,” I was like, “Come on, throw in some syncopations for me, baby! Forget dear Son for a minute and scat for Donny. Create some new melodic lines.” She could have given these songs a new dimension if she could break free from his original material. An axiom of jazz is that “the more notes are read, the less the jazz.”

My disapointment with Nhu Canh Vac Bay is her aspirate voice. Her breath control on Thuo Bong La Nguoi was flawless, but labored heavily on almost all of the tracks in this new release. Other than that, Hong Nhung’s streamlined approach to Trinh’s music is still refreshing and soothing. Once again, she mastered Trinh’s craftsmenship with her vocal agility and elastic range that empower her to hit a note from different angles.