Is Thuở Ấy Có Jazz jazz? The album kicks off with a swing cover of Văn Phụng’s “Tôi Đi Giữa Hoàng Hôn.” Tuyết Loan sings the melody straight on. The rhythm section, made up of Vũ Trọng Hiếu (piano), Thanh Tân (guitar bass), Kiên Hoài (drum) and Hoàng Loan (guitar), comes out swinging and then switching to bossa nova for a novelty ending. Lê Tấn Quốc plays a brief saxophone solo on the break.
Throughout the record, Tuyết Loan who has a coarse contralto delivers well-loved ballads including “Cho Em Quên Tuổi Ngọc” (Lam Phương), “Chuyển Bến” (Đoàn Chuẩn and Từ Linh) and “Ai Về Sông Tương” (Thông Đạt), as they were written. Her flows are rigid and she lands perfectly on every beat. She never pushes her phrasings. She doesn’t play around with time and syncopation. With such a recognizable repertoire, she could have abandon the familiar melodies and reinvent something new. Heck, she could have thrown in some scat phrases or sung behind the beat. The only rule in jazz is to sing or play something not there. With “Huyền Thoại Người Con Gái” (Lê Hựu Hà), she could have challenged the band in double time and the outcome could have been more spontaneous.
The only track that comes close to jazz is “Thuở Ấy Có Em” (Huỳnh Anh). Except for Tuyết Loan, each band member gets a brief solo. I wish more songs were approached this way or even stretch out longer. Since improvisation is so sparse, Thuở Ấy Có Jazz could only be a pop-jazz record, an enjoyable one.