Nguyên Lê ‘Songs of Freedom’ (ACT) 4/5

In previous projects guitarist Lê has devoted an entire album to the music of Jimi Hendrix. This latest set takes a wider panoramic vision as its starting point and focuses instead on a homage of sorts to the music of the 1970s (though the Beatles, Cream and Janis Joplin are more 1960s). If one is expecting a straightforward album of standards, think again. These have been carefully thought out and mark a departure from the originals. The album title is of course a subtle reference to Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption song’ which here is transformed into an eerie sounding piece with electric guitar and subtle use of strings. Even more unusual is ‘Eleanor rigby’ which has a Far Eastern feel on zither and builds into a mid-tempo number. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Part-time paradise’ received a wonderful Latin jazz version from Ray Barretto, but here it is a very different creature. The tempo is taken all the way down to just marimba and guitar accompaniment and duet vocals. It is indeed a creative and lovely sounding departure from the original. Various guest vocalists including David Linx and Linley Marthe add to the already eclectic mix. This is no better illustrated than on the North African flavoured ‘Come together’ which features Dhaffer Youssef. Nguyên Lê is definitely a musician with a highly original sound and one that emerges clearly irrespective of the repertoire selected.

Tim Stenhouse