36th Vilnius Jazz Festival. 12-16 October, 2022

Nguyen Le "Songs of Freedom"

Nguyen Le "Songs of Freedom" (France):

Nguyen Le - guitar
Himiko Paganotti - vocal
Christopher Jennings - bass
Illya Amar -vibraphone, marimba
Stéphane Galland - drums

Having received wide recognition in both Europe and overseas Songs of Freedom is one of Nguyen Le’s, the guitarist of Vietnamese origins residing in Paris, most successful projects. With this project the musician has opted for, as it might seem, impossible – to rouse the pop hits of the 70s to new life. The critics unanimously agree, that for such a unique phenomenon as Nguyen Le it was meant to be possible!

With a team of representatives of various cultures the sound-magician offers surprisingly exotic and refreshing version of mythical songs by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and Bob Marley. His arrangements mesmerise with imagination, colourful soundscapes, seamless integration of ethnic motifs and pop tunes. Encompassing the vastness of the world in his music Nguyen Le invites to savour its cosiness and beauty.

Nguyen Le’s magic can be explained by the uniqueness of his personality. After graduating in Visual Arts, he majored in Philosophy. As a self-taught musician he started playing drums in his teens, then switched to acoustic and later electric guitar.

His professional career picked-up when he was invited to join the French National Jazz Orchestra. Within the big band he played with such musicians as Johnny Griffin, Louis Sclavis, Didier Lockwood, Carla Bley, Toots Thielemans, Steve Lacy, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gil Evans and Quincy Jones.

Nguyen Le made a professional statement when on a short notice he substituted for Al DiMeola in Jazzpana, Vince Mendoza and the WDR big band’s jazz and flamenco project. Since 1993, he has been a frequent guest soloist with the band. It was here that he met bassist Dieter Ilg and drummer Danny Gottlieb with whom he has set his first trio. As a leader Nguyen Le recorded his first album with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine (in the US).

Since the very beginning of his career he was intrigued by the fusion of different styles and cultures. By accumulating his experience in rock, funk, jazz and ethnic music he generated his unique voice.

Nguyen Le’s first group Ultramarine played African and Caribbean music. Later he formed a project with Algerian singer Safy Boutella, Vietnamese Truong Tang, who taught Nguyen Le to play dan bau, a Vietnamese traditional one-stringed instrument.

In 1996, he recorded Tales from Viet-Nam – a blend of jazz and traditional Vietnamese music. The album, that opened a new page in his career, received a great welcoming from international critics. Two years later Nguyen Le recorded Maghreb & Friends with Algerian musicians. The guitarist dived into the world music bringing together diverse musicians including experts on Vietnamese and African flutes, Algerian banjo and other exotic instruments. One of his formations included Serbian Bojan Z., Austrian Wolfgang Puschnig, Italians Paolo Fresu and Stefano Di Battista, as well as traditional Berber and Vietnamese musicians.

Nguyen Le’s projects featured a number of celebrated percussionists such as Karim Ziad, Trilok Gurtu, Terru Lyne Carrington; he has collaborated with Richard Bona, Chris Potter and Rudresh Mahanthappa among other jazz coryphées. The guitarist has produced almost 20 albums, many of which were introduced in substantial music magazines and included into radio top charts.

Nguyen Le played in projects of Marc Ducret, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, Uri Caine, as well as big band celebrity Maria Schneider to name but a few. His experience enabled him to compose for orchestra, appear in contemporary academic music concerts.

Nguyen Le’s music appeals to the most diverse auditorium – not only due to its ethnic flavour, but mostly its subtleness and integrity. In 2006, Nguyen Le was ranked the guitar of Django d’Or and in 2011 was awarded the Order of Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts & des Lettres by French Cultural Minister.

The members of Songs of Freedom share wide cultural horizons. Christopher Jennings, a Canadian bassist, composer and arranger, plays a wide variety of musical genres and styles on both acoustic double bass and electric bass. He studied jazz in the University of Toronto (Canada) and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague (Holland), shared his expertise in schools and master classes in France.

In addition to Nguyen Le’s projects, Jennings is a sideman in Dhafer Youssef Quartet, Kudsi Erguner group and Thomas Enhco Trio; leads his own quartet, various trios and acoustic duos. In the past Lithuanian audiences had a chance to hear some of his partners such as Eivind Aarset, Yaron Herman and Satoshi Takeishi.

Jennings also collaborates with Jacek Kochan/Dave Liebman and Lee Konitz/ Giovanni Ceccarelli quartets.

Belgian drummer Stéphane Galland is famous for his inventiveness and passion for complex rhythms. He plays jazz, African, classical and popular music. Galland toured
with Doudou N’Diaye Rose, and Joe Zawinul’s Syndicate.

Percussion virtuoso Illya Amar brings good deal of hex to Nguyen Le’s project. He has worked with the guitarist for almost a decade, sided in three of his albums. Amar
is as skilful on electronics as he is on exotic percussion.

Himiko Paganotti usually joins the French musicians as a backing vocal.

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Nguyen Le "Songs of Freedom"


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