Before I rain on his happiness, let me be crystal clear that I am not only a fan of Nguyen Khang, but also one of his toughest critics. Given that Mua Tren Hanh Phuc Toi is his debut DVD, the effort is commendable, but there are still plenty of room for improvements. The concept could have been tighter. The song choice could have been better. The arrangement could have been simpler.
The concept was all over the place. It should have been more focused on either an intimate setting or all-out pop. The danger of pleasing everyone is losing them all. The song selection seemed to be coming more from Asia than Nguyen Khang himself. Sy Dan’s “Vung Bien Vang,” Vu Duc Tuan’s “Toc Ngang Bo Vai” and Quoc Hung’s “Vi Sao Em Oi” are the proof. The Nguyen Khang-Diem Lien duet was a disappointment. It sounded exactly like the recorded version. Arrangement wise, some could have been stripped down. Trinh Cong Son’s “Mot Ngay Nhu Moi Ngay” was definitely over arranged by Sy Dan. The minimal accompaniment like an acoustic guitar was all that needed to create the simple day-to-day life in Trinh’s lyricism. The mid-bouncy beat didn’t do the song its justice.
With all that said, there were some shining moments on the DVD. Tha Phuong’s “Dem Dai” was the highlight of the concert. Accompanied by Mai Thanh Son’s simple orchestration and backed up by Song Xanh group, Nguyen Khang gave a poignant performance. He had done an great job of articulating the mournful sentiment the songwriter expressed for his deceased wife. Although Thien Kim had popularized Duc Tien’s “Nguoi Dan Ba Di Nhat Mat Troi,” Nguyen Khang managed to make it his own just by singing it straight from his heart.
Y Van’s “Thoi” has been covered to death, but Hoai Phuong was able to reinvigorate it with a laid-back, finger-snapping, swing jazz. The thumbing bass lines accompanying Nguyen Khang’s gruff voice in the beginning was hypnotizing. This is along the line of what I was thinking of when I wanted to make a Vietnamese jazz concert: keep it simple, keep it cool. Van Phung’s “Toi Di Giua Hoang Hon” also got a mid-tempo, muted-swing treatment from Hoai Phuong. The thing is the arrangement had been used before in a medley “Ai Ve Song Tuong/Toi Di Giua Hoang Hon.”
The show closed out with Truc Ho’s “Se Hon Bao Gio Het” in an up-tempo Latin flavor. Sy Dan contributed the majority of the arrangements for the concert, but this one stood out the most. The bass was kicking and Daniel Vu dropped some tasty keys on the piano. It’s a nice way to end the show. If the poppy numbers were replaced with some jazz, bluesy or his signiture tunes, Mua Tren Hanh Phuc Toi would have been unforgettable.