Chèo, a form of folk tradition originated from north Vietnam, is not an easy listening for the non-aficionados. As much as I appreciate its unique artform, I can’t get past a third track on a straight chèo record. The heavy accent is hard to hear and the pitch is usually a bit too high for my comfort level. Tân Nhàn recognizes these obstacles as she puts together Yếm Đào Xuống Phố. In order to bring chèo to a wider audience, especially the young demographic, she has to make the traditional music fresh and inviting. Enlisting pianist Trần Mạnh Hùng to combine chèo and jazz is a smart strategy.
Trần Mạnh Hùng has been making chèo working with jazz since Ngọc Khuê’s debut; therefore, he is not new to this east-melody-meets-west-rhythm approach. He understands the authenticity as well as the aesthetic of both worlds and he knows the marriage between the two without sacrificing one another. “Tò Vò” is a perfect illustration of how he masterfully makes the two styles work together. While Tân Nhàn’s singing is rooted in chèo, Trần Mạnh Hùng works his magic around her voice rather than changing the melody to fit jazz. As she sings, he accommodates her with bluesy touches. The beauty of “Mục Hạ Vô Nhân” is that no traditional instrumentation is used, and yet the trumpet is a sensational complement to her voice.
Yếm Đào Xuống Phố only has seven tracks and clocks in just a bit over 30 minutes, but every piece counts. From “Đường Trường Phải Chiều” to “Chèo Mở Lái Ra,” Tân Nhàn and Trần Mạnh Hùng offer a complete listening experience rather than throwing different tunes in the album and hoping something would stick. I am so glad to see Tân Nhàn puts tremendous effort in making this album. It definitely pays off. With the support of Trần Mạnh Hùng and talented musicians, Tân Nhàn reinvigorates chèo with jazz.