NGUYÊN LÊ, Songs of Freedom [ACT Music]

Vietnamese guitarist Lê turns in one of the standout sides of the year with his exotic, intoxicating interpretations of eleven classic pop songs, backed by the formidable core of bassist Linley Marthe, vibist Illya Amar, and drummer Stéphane Galland, plus a host of guest vocalists and percussionists. “Eleanor Rigby” immediately sets the stage with its haunting, intertwined Asiatic themes, funk feel, and jazz reharms.
By Chris Jisi ,

Vietnamese guitarist Lê turns in one of the standout sides of the year with his exotic, intoxicating interpretations of eleven classic pop songs, backed by the formidable core of bassist LinleyMarthe, vibist Illya Amar, and drummer Stéphane Galland, plus a host of guest vocalists and percussionists. “Eleanor Rigby” immediately sets the stage with its haunting, intertwined Asiatic themes, funk feel, and jazz reharms. “I Wish” comes right out of a Bombay marketplace, with Marthe’s cascading bass line and David Linx’s soulful singing. “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love” boast third-world percussion beds, melismatic vocals, Lê’s Holdsworth-ian shredding, and Linley’s psychotic, effectsdriven solo on the latter. Janis Joplin covers “Mercedes Benz” and “Move Over” capture the striking similarites between Vietnamese folk music and rural blues, while “Sunshine of Your Love” moves brightly in and out of keys and global grooves.

Among the deepest immersions are “Come Together,” with it’s odd meter and four-vocalist reading, and the row of fresh sections that unfold during an epic reimagination of “Pastime Paradise.” Both tracks boast Marthe’s ear-snagging gift for playing in the cracks and gaps like few can. Most impressive overall is Lê’s ability to infuse wonderous new world textures and take melodic liberties without ever losing the musical and social intent and integrity of the original songs.