Purple – Celebrating Jimi Hendrix

COMPOSERS: Nguyn L
LABELS: ACT
PERFORMER: Nguyên Lê (g, g-synth), Michel Alibo (b), Terri Lyne Carrington (d, v), etc
CATALOGUE NO: 9410-2

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The legends of rock, from Janis Joplin to Kurt Cobain, generally come and go without having too much musical effect on the jazz world. Jimi Hendrix, however, attracted the interest not only of Miles Davis and Gil Evans, but also of the generation of guitarists – Bill Frisell, John Scofield, José Neto, Mike Stern prominent among them – who were to effect a minor revolution in jazz’s overall sound from the Eighties on.

However, the French-Vietnamese virtuoso Nguyên Lê takes a new approach, being perhaps the first jazz-based figure to treat Hendrix material with, in his words, ‘the same freedom and dedication as a jazzman will [utilise to] play a standard’.

That freedom and dedication bear rich fruit: Lê is one of the most open-eared of contemporary musicians, and his immersion in a uniquely vibrant Paris jazz scene that effortlessly incorporates everything from Breton folk to rai and sub-Saharan African rhythms gives his music an eclecticism that is as natural-sounding as it is exhilarating.

The core trio of Lê, the fluent but powerful electric bassist Michel Alibo and the subtly dynamic drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is joined by guests from a wide stylistic range, so the celebrated riff of ‘Voodoo Child’, for instance, is imaginatively framed by an African chant over chattering percussion, while ‘Purple Haze’ becomes a jazzy shuffle with its famous two-chord introduction used as the background for a short drum solo at its centre.

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Driving the whole project, however, is Lê himself: of all the Hendrix-influenced guitarists currently around, he is probably the best qualified to attempt an album this ambitious, and it is a sign of his growing assurance as a musician and leader that it succeeds so triumphantly in combining considerable complexity with immediate accessibility. Chris Parker