Shadow in the Dark – Bong Toi Ly Café

Not a bad start at all for a Vietnamese jazz record. Le Thanh Hai’s Shadow in the Dark gives Vietnamese ballads a jazz interpretation. The good thing about covering old tunes is that listeners are already familiar with the melodies. The only challenge part is to take the tunes out of their written notes with improvisations.

Van Phung’s “Toi Di Giua Hoang Hon” gets a simple, straightforward, mid-tempo swing. The keyboard and guitar kick off with the original melody on the first two sections. The keyboard returns with a solo and then back to the melody. The band drops out to let the keyboard continues its brief improvisation. The bass, guitar and drums take their turn to solo, and then everyone come in to take the tune out. Except for the stilted, forced guitar solo, the tune as a whole works out well on the minimal structure. The smooth saxophone on Huynh Anh’s “Thuo Ay Co Em” is on the verge of being jazzy, but the infectious bass lines save the track. Likewise, the thumping bass brings rhythmic and liveliness to the bluesy vibes on Nguyen Anh 9’s “Co Don” and Duc Huy’s “Con Mua Phun.”

Although Filipino singer Arlene Estrella has a dark, smoky voice, her English takes on Duong Thu’s “Bong Toi Ly Café” and “Em Di Qua Toi” aren’t convincing. The authenticity is lost in translation. The tunes should have sung in Vietnamese. Nevertheless, the direction in Shadow of the Dark is definitely an excellent initiative in merging jazz and Vietnamese music. It sure beats the kind of crap that have been pumping out by big productions lately.