Anh Tuyet’s Di Tim is the latest attempt to jazz up old-school Vietnamese ballads. To be more accurate, it is an effort from the moldy figs (Anh Tuyet, Nguyen Anh 9, and Bao Chan) trying to get their swing on. Anh Tuyet sure has a fine and mellow voice despite of her age, but she doesn’t have the right chops for jazz. A jazz singer can’t just sing tunes straight the way they were written. The more notes being sung, the less the jazz.
What makes jazz so lively and sexy is that she doesn’t play by rules, but that is not the case here with Anh Tuyet and the musicians (including Ly Duoc on bass, Trong Hieu on piano, and Xuan Hieu on saxophone) who have no rhythmic sensibility for jazz. They don’t have the heart to strip down the standards to their basic structures and then build them back up with their own invention. They are just simply there to back up the vocalist. In the pseudo swing, Quoc Truong’s “Nhung Phut Giay Qua,” not only the rhythm section is unswingable, the rock guitar added an excruciating noise to Anh Tuyet’s pallid flow. The title track feels the same way, but less distracting because no rock riff is involved.
The biggest disappointment of the entire album is that Anh Tuyet hardly pushes her delivery, manipulates her vocals range, or improvises her singing. The only time she breaks free from the written notes is near the end of Tran Dung’s “Loi Chim” where she mimics the bird’s voice. Now if she applies more scat singing and improvising on the blues, like Nguyen Anh 9’s “Buon Oi! Chao Mi,” “Mua Thu Canh Nau,” Trinh Cong Son’s “Vet Lan Tram” and “Hay Khoc Di Em,” she would have created a revelation. In jazz, it is not how well a standard being sung, but how to transform it into an individual statement with new melodic lines while still capable of articulating the lyrics.