Giang Trang – Hạ Huyền 2

Giang Trang is apparently a devotee of Trịnh Công Sơn’s music. In her debut, Lênh Đênh Nhớ Phố, she brought some fresh air into his songs with her earthy interpretation backed by pared-down accompaniment of violinist Anh Tú and guitarist Anh Hoàng. In her sophomore release, Hạ Huyền, she continued to record Trịnh’s music, but experimented with richer sounds from guitarist Nguyễn Văn Tuấn, flutist Sương Mai, cellist Lê Thanh Long and percussionist Trần Xuân Hòa. The result was not pleasing. The exotic arrangements drowned out her singing. In her third recording, Hạ Huyền 2, she and her arranger Thanh Phương wisely return to the minimalist setting.

Recognizing that Giang Trang has an effortless style of singing that is best placed in an intimate atmosphere, Thanh Phương backs her voice with his own acoustic guitar. Although his accompaniment alone can create a musical dialog between the vocalist and the guitarist, he incorporates a few voices into the conversation. With Vân Mai on the Vietnamese 16-string zither, Lê Thư Hương on the flute and Trọng Kiều on the piano, their playing enhances rather than distracts the whole experience.

To hear how these instruments come together, listen to “Nhìn Những Mùa Thu Đi.” The zither starts off with a beautiful folk tradition. The guitar picks up the vibe and the flute joins in to create a zen setting. All the instruments drop out to focus on Giang Trang’s singing. The guitar alone returns to back the vocals. When Giang Trang gets through the song the first time, the guitar takes over the solo with the keyboard comes in. The keyboard stays on and the guitar plays an ostinato pattern as the vocal returns. After the vocal naked vocal faded out at the end, all the instruments join force to take the tune out.

The entire album is orchestrated in similar fashion; therefore, the experience is coherent, but never boring. What makes the arrangements so intriguing is that they never reveal the original melody because they don’t have to. The ballads are already too familiar and Giang Trang sings them straight on. As I am listening to record, I can’t help but wonder what if she takes Billie Holiday’s approach and deviates away from Trinh’s melody completely? That would be the art of reinterpretation.