Backing up by the Big Band Song Hong, saxophonist Quyen Van Minh and his friends gave Vietnamese ballads a jazz flavor. Mr. Quyen is obviously from the school of moldy figs. His approach to jazz is drawn from the swing era.
The Jazz With Vietnamese Lyric concert kicked off with Tran Tien’s “Thanh Pho Tre,” a catchy swing tune that is played straight on the melody. In fact, most tunes, including Anh Viet’s “Lo Chien Do,” Anh Viet’s “Ve Que” and Trong Dai’s “Ha Noi Dem Tro Gio,” are played in a very tight structure with only a chorus or a few bars of improvisation. Trumpet Hoang Xuan Vuong gave an achingly gorgeous reading of Trinh Cong Son’s “Mot Coi Di Ve,” but I wish he wasn’t married to Trinh’s melody and just pimped out sort of like what Coleman Hawkins did with “Body and Soul.” Hawkins assumed that everyone was familiar with the melody so he just improvised the entire tune without directly playing on the melody. I am sure everyone knows “Mot Coi Di Ve” by heart.
My biggest issue with the Big Band was way too many saxophones in the orchestra. A bunching of horns backing up a saxophone was very jarring. On Trinh Cong Son’s “Cat Bui,” Mr. Quyen stripped out the rhythm section and with only the saxes accompanying him, he turned the ballad into a funeral ode that was a fitting tribute to the great late Trinh Cong Son. The only time that the sax section worked was on Nguyen Cuong’s “H’zen Len Ray,” in which the saxes created a beautiful call-and-response effect with the trumpet.
One of my personal favorites was the piano-saxophone duet of Trinh Cong Son’s “Phoi Pha.” Accompanied by Dang Khang Nhi’s jazz-classical piano, Mr. Quyen played a soulful ballad with his own emotional solo. As beautiful as the song was, I couldn’t get over the erroneous introduction he made before he started to play. Mr. Quyen pointed out that jazz was born from black people, but jazz has to be combined with white’s wisdom to create jazz today. Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and especially Miles Davis would roll over their grave if they heard his statement.