Nguyên Lê Quartet: Streams


With its swirling, interconnected influences from a range of musical cultures, Streams is an engaging and fresh listen. “I like to think that Streams’ music showcases the journey of cultures, and how cultures transform themselves when they travel”, explains Lê in the liner notes. The album very definitely succeeds on that front.

World-music influences play a strong role in the appeal of the tracks here. A rich brew of Indian rhythm concepts, Vietnamese phrasings and Oriental melodic shifts all play a part in keeping things fresh and interesting, without it ever getting too clever. Although Lê is the main composer here, bassist Jennings and vibraphone player Amar contribute a couple of tracks that feel perfectly at home in the mix.

John Hadfield, a drummer steeped in indigenous musical traditions from places as diverse as Peru and Mongolia, puts in a phenomenal work rate on Streams, propelling the music across these diverse time signatures and accents with seemingly effortless skill and dexterity – an impressive and important performance.

In places, the music is reminiscent of works recorded by Mark Egan and Mitch Forman – funky, probing and curious. If the majority of compositions on Streams explore the fusion of world cultures, the final track Coromandel has a more cosmic and universal flavour. Slower, reflective and spacious, it draws – perhaps unintentionally – on the pioneering work of the late Japanese exponent of electronic music Isao Tomita.

Hippocampus; Bamiyan; Swing A Ming; Subtle Body; 6h55; Mazurka; Sawira; The Single Orange; Coromandel (47.53)
Lê (elg, elec); Illya Amar (vib); Chris Jennings (b); John Hadfield (d, pc) Paris, August and September 2018.
ACT Music 9876-2