Mezcal Jazz Unit – Tim Gio

Jazz was originated in America, but has been embraced worldwide. Musicians around the globe have been using her rhythms and syncopations to introduce their own music to the world. Lately, the blending of eastern and western sound is becoming a new trend. The Twelve Girls Band is being recognized for weaving traditional sounds (Chinese instruments) into pop and jazz styles. Recently, the Mezcal Jazz Unit from France has teamed up with Vietnamese musicians to bring us Tim Gio (Looking For the Wind), a collaborative effort between two cultures.

As much as I appreciate the attempt from these musicians to bring something new to the table, I don’t experience a smooth fusion connecting the two groups. But instead, each instrument fights for your ears, like the whole Wu-Tang Clan is spitting in one mic. The reed section blows its own horn. The traditional instruments (dan nhi, dan bau, dan tranh) strike their own chords. The weak rhythm section does not swing. The saxophone improvisation is monotonous or lacks humanistic expression most of the time, but when it gets dissonant (on the title track for instance), it becomes John Coltrane’s sheets-of-sound imitation.

The biggest problem with Tim Gio is the chaotic sounds coming out of multiple directions. That’s not the way jazz-fusion works. When Miles Davis recorded Bitches Brew, the sounds came together coherently even though he had multiple electric keyboards, multiple drums, multiple basses, and multiple horns playing at once. The end result was an organic sound that felt so damn natural to the ears.

The album also has tried to provoke conversations between eastern and western instruments, but the outcome is like one speaks Vietnamese while the other speaks French in a mashup dialogue. The exchange is not even close to what avant-garde Ornette Coleman had produced forty-five years ago in The Shape of Jazz to Come. Coleman’s sax and Don Cherry’s trumpet were carrying on a call-and-response effect provided by the incredible rhythm section from bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins.

Too bad Tim Gio didn’t find its wind, but at least it is a perfect album to relax with. And I am feeling the dan t’rung (a musical instrument of the minority people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam) vibration in “Cent Pour Cent” played by Cao Ho Nga.