If you’re looking for some soothing instrumental Vietnamese ballads to get you into the holiday spirit, check out Quang Thắng’s Tình Yêu Cuối Đường. He plays some melodic saxophone rendition of familiar tunes including “Bao Giờ Biết Tương Tư” (Phạm Duy), “Anh Còn Nợ Em” (Anh Bằng) and “Trái Tim Bên Lề” (Phạm Khải Tuấn).
If you’re looking for something more innovative, however, this record isn’t it. The main issue here is that Quang Thắng plays every note as perfect as it was written. Even for the jazz rendition of “Phút Cuối,” he never breaks out of Lam Phương’s melodic lines. It’s a missed opportunity not to improvise on such a popular tune. The perfect example would be Coleman Hawkin’s rendition of “Body and Soul.” He didn’t even reinstate the melody because most people knew the ballad.
Another major drawback is the lacking of spontaneity since Quang Thắng played his saxes over pre-arrangements rather than with a live band. You can’t just blow your horn over a recorded rhythm section unless you’re Miles Davis. Even Miles needed talented producers like Marcus Miller to provide him with top-notch arrangements for Tutu.
While “Thuở Ấy Có Em” (Huỳnh Anh) has a wonderful bluesy feel to it, Quang Thắng plays the melody note for note. When I hear this tune, Miles’ advice comes to mind: “Don’t play what’s there; play what’s not there.” Then again, maybe Quang Thắng’s intention is just to make a soothing record.