Born in Paris from vietnamese parents, he began to play drums at the age of 15, then took up guitar & electric bass. After graduating in Visual Arts, he majored in Philosophy, writing a thesis on Exoticism.
Nguyên LE is a self-taught musician, with a wide scope of interests : Rock & Funk (Jim Cuomo, Madagascar tour 84), Jazz standards & contemporary Jazz (bass player with Marc Ducret, guitar player with Eric Barret), Improvised Music (Yves Robert), Singers (Ray Charles), Contemporary Music (André Almuro, Tona Scherchen, Marius Constant, Mauricio Kagel), Ethnic Music : African & Caribbean with ULTRAMARINE , Algerian with Safy Boutella & Cheb Mami, Indian with Kakoli, Turkish with Kudsi Erguner, Vietnamese with his “Dan Bau” (traditional one-stringed instrument) teacher Truong Tang.
In sept. 87 he was chosen by director Antoine Hervé to play with the O. N. J.
In sept. 89 he records ULTRAMARINE’s 2nd album “DÉ” &, in may 90, his first album as a leader : " MIRACLES " recorded in the U.S.A. with Art LANDE, Marc JOHNSON & Peter ERSKINE.
In April 96, Nguyên Lê creates “Tales from Viêt-Nam”, a project on Vietnamese music, with a 8-piece band blending jazz & traditional musicians. With stage director P. J. San Bartolomé, he starts " Of the Moon & the Wind “, a complete show where traditional & contemporary vietnamese dancers are integrated to the "Tales from Viêt-Nam” orchestra.
On 5/98, 6th N. Lê record : « Maghreb & Friends », an exploration of Maghreb musical traditions & a deep collaboration with Algerian musicians. « Far from a false world music, N. Lê simply touches, with force & intensity, to universality » F. Medioni. N. Lê produced the 1rst CD of Huong Thanh, « Moon & Wind », entirely done in his home studio. He also has been nominated for the « Victoires de la Musique 1999 » award.
Sept 2002 : 2nd CD of Huong Thanh « Dragonfly ». In june 2002 he’s invited by the Metropole Orchestra (NL) to play his music arranged by Vince Mendoza. « Purple », an album celebrating Jimi Hendrix is released in sept 2002. In sept 2002 it’s n° 1 on the charts of UK magazine “Jazzwise”. Today it’s N. Lê’s most successful album, with 20 500 CD sales & non stop touring all over the world. “Mangustao”, Huong Thanh’s 3rd album, released in jan. 2004, is awarded as “Choc de la Musique” by french magazine “Le Monde de la Musique”. In March 2005 release of “Walking on the Tiger’s Tail”, new album with his great friends Art Lande, Paul McCandless & Jamey Haddad “A universe where the alliance between acoustic and electric, improvisation and writing, inner delicacy and virtuosic expressivity reach the ideal balance.”(LeMonde).
Several projects were built in 2006 : the score writing of “Le Sheitan”, a movie by Kim Chapiron with Vincent Cassel, & « Homescape », a very electronic, improvised & mystical recording in duo with Paolo Fresu & Dhafer Youssef, all done at home, #1 in « Jazzwise » april 2006 charts; the score for the vietnamese movie “Saigon Eclipse” by Othello Khanh; the recording of “Mozart” last Uri Caine’s album; a 13-gig tour in USA with “Tiger’s Tail” quartet, thanks to a CMA/FACE grant; two “classical” compositions commissionned by the Ahn Trio & the Laguna Beach Fest in LA. Nguyên Lê was unanimously awarded as the guitar “Django d’Or” 2006.
In 2007, after tours in US & China, he releases “Fragile Beauty”, the 4th album with Huong Thanh « simply an album that captures the heart from the first note and leaves it hungering for more as the last one fades » (All That Jazz). In 2008 he records “The Othello Syndrome” for Uri Caine, “Blauklang” for Vince Mendoza’s & also « Dream Flight » a new ELB album, with guest Stéphane Guillaume on sax.
Label: ACT Music
Release date: April 25, 2008
Dream Flight is not only a long-awaited reunion of old friends; on the opening and title track a fourth commanding force jumps in to the fray – the saxophonist Stéphane Guillaume. He enriches this charismatic trio with silken soprano saxophone lines that will bring you to your knees, wild, virtuoso bebop-like tenor passages, and impressively supportive accompaniments.
Together they take flight into a fantastically varied musical dream-world. It is a world of such lyrical ballads as Erskine’s “Song for Jaco” (written for Erskine’s former musical compatriot, the late Jaco Pastorius), or Lê’s gossamer “Romanichel” with its use of Far Eastern scales. There is the drive of Erskine’s audacious, undulating “Plan 9” (one might add, “from outer space”), and Lê’s “Kokopanitsa” played in his unique rock style as he finesses in shimmering Asiatic lines, up through Benita’s free jazz and bebop-instigated “Rotha & Prisca”. Strength paired with tenderness; clarity united with the cryptic; tradition combined with innovation – what you experience on this CD is one of modern jazz’ most luminous visions. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another seven years before we might again enjoy such a dream flight.
Release date: January 25, 2007
Fragile Beauty isn’t the first time that singer Huong Thanh and guitarist Nguyên Lê—both Vietnamese-born, Paris-based— have worked together.
Every one of these albums leads inevitably to Fragile Beauty, an album largely consisting of thoughtfully arranged traditional songs, but with some newly written material that sounds both as timeless and contemporary as the Vietnamese material Lê has arranged.
Call it world music, world jazz, the title of Fragile Beauty says it all. While there are songs propelled forward by a wealth of percussion—and, on “The Swallows’ Bridge,” by Karim Ziad’s drum kit, which kicks in half-way through, locking in tightly with bassist Etienne Mbappé for a groove more Afrobeat than Oriental—there’s a pervasive sense of delicacy and spare beauty. Despite the cultural source of the material, the preponderance of percussion instruments from around the globe, electric guitars, programming and sampling make this music of a global nature, with sophisticated harmonic elements pulled from (but not in) the jazz tradition, some of Lê’s textures fusion- like (but his playing rarely approaching it) and guest trumpeter/flugenhornist Paolo Fresu’s harmonized playing on “Swallows’ Bridge” referencing Nu Jazz without actually being it.