Thanh Lam has been flirting with jazz throughout her career, but never cut a jazz record until now. With her new album, Lam Blue Ta, she has no shame labeling it as “Vietnamese jazz” as she’s attempting to establish her position in the Vietnamese jazz scene. Unfortunately, she can’t move beyond her pop territory; therefore, Lam Blue Ta is more like a pop album with a tint of blues rather than the other way around.
The jump-off track, Nguyen Cuong’s “H’Zen Len Ray,” has a nice, subtle, swing groove and Thanh Lam rides the beat in a minimal flow, but she simply can’t scat. In his “Trang Khat,” Le Minh Son has cleverly rearranged the country blues for Thanh Lam that bears no resemblance of Tung Duong’s rendition. He also replaced the piano for a driving saxophone. To stir away from Tung Duong’s fierce delivery, Thanh Lam wisely restrained her fire to give a different feel. From Tran Tien’s “Ngau Hung Song Hong” to Le Minh Son’s “Con Trai Be Bong” to Duong Thu’s “Bong Toi Ly Café,” however, the album started to lose the blues flavors once Thanh Lam moves into her pop zone.
Tran Tien’s “Tuy Hung Ly Ngua O” returns to the swing rhythm to wrap up the scratching-the-surface effort. Thanh Lam has potential, but she will success only if she is willing to take the time to absorb the blues. Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington and Muddy Waters are some of the true blues legends to learn from. If she wants to scat and swing, Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day are among the singer’s singers to draw inspiration from. If Thanh Lam could only take jazz this far, we need some serious development or might as well let it go and quit calling “Vietnamese jazz.” To be fair, Thanh Lam isn’t the only one to be responsible, but also the musicians.