Pham Duc Thanh
Deep in the classical tradition of Vietnamese string-dominated ensembles is a theory on precisely how to strike or pluck the strings of the dan bau to obtain the sliding effects and pitches that make up traditional music. Pham Duc Thanh, however, is an innovator who has modified the dan bau, a monochord instrument. By fitting the dan bau with thicker strings, he has produced a bass instrument with a truly astonishing sound that is unfortunately heard on only one cut on this album, "Hat Cheo Thuyen", a boat-rowing song. Pham has also modified the dan bau by placing pieces of bamboo under the string and striking it with a bamboo stick so as to make the sound more percussive. That's heard on the song "Trong Quan", a festive song from North Vietnam.
Pham's dan bau playing is the heart of the album. On the solo instrumental "Trang Thu Da Khuc", dedicated to the autumn moon, Pham conveys a deep melancholy reminisent of the saddest of blues. Vocalist Lieu Nguyet Lan accompanies Pham. Her considerable abilities are highlighted on the CD's longest cut "Hat Chau Van", a medley of chants that come from the Buddhist tradition. The 12 cuts include works from different sections of the country. There is even one piece, "Tam Nhip Trong Cheo" that explores the rich percussion ensemble tradition.
In sum, this is an important addition to the small number of traditional music albums being produced by the expatriate Vietnamese community in Canada and the United States. -Aaron Howard
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