Nguyên Lê


Nguyên Lê

Nguyên Lê Biography

„A deep-minded musician, filled with mystery, whose playing is never meaningless“ (Télérama )
“ Magician guitarist “ (Jazz Mag, Guitare & Claviers)

Like a funambulist, Nguyên Lê skips from rock burning intensity to Asian refinement, from the meticulous search of new sounds to the catching joy of improvisation.

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. Then he devoted to music, creating „ULTRAMARINE“ (1983), a multi-ethnic band whose CD “ DÉ “ has been considered „1989′ s best World Music album“ Philippe Conrath,

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. (French National Jazz Orchestra). Within this big band, he played with such musicians as Johnny Griffin, Louis Sclavis, Didier Lockwood, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Randy Brecker, Toots Thielemans, Courtney Pine, Steve Lacy, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gil Evans, Quincy Jones. Nguyên LE‘ s work also deals with programming synthetizers, effects & computers as well as writing orchestral pieces : „PROCESSOR“ composed, arranged & recorded on CD „O.N.J. 87“ & „LUNIK II“ co-arranged with Dominique Borker & performed by the O.N.J. 1989.

In Sept. 89 he records ULTRAMARINE’s 2nd album „DÉ“ and in May 90, his first album as a leader : “ MIRACLES “ recorded in the U.S.A. with Art LANDE, Marc JOHNSON & Peter ERSKINE. At the same time he works with such musicians as Michel Portal, Miroslav Vitous, Trilok Gurtu, J. F. Jenny Clarke, Aldo Romano, Daniel Humair, Dewey Redman, Andy Emler, Jon Christensen, Nana Vasconcelos, Glenn Ferris, Christof Lauer, Paolo Fresu, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor …

In May 92, after a month tour with Paul McCANDLESS on winds, Art Lande (p), Dean Johnson (b) & Joël Allouche (d), he records his 2nd album ZANZIBAR, which gets the « ffff » award by Télérama. In Jan. 93 he records „INIT“, a trio with André Ceccarelli, François Moutin & guest Bob Berg, while setting up a new band on the music of Jimi Hendrix, w/ Corin Curschellas (voc), Steve Argüelles (d), Richard Bona (b).

Since Jan. 93 he’s been a frequent guest soloist of Köln’s WDR Big band, especially with composer/director Vince MENDOZA. Nguyên Lê plays on three of his projects : „Jazzpaña“, „Sketches“ w/ Dave LIEBMAN, Charlie MARIANO, Peter Erskine, & „Downtown“, w/ Russell Ferrante. In April 94 he’s the guest soloist of „The New Yorker“, a suite by Bob BROOKMEYER, with Dieter Ilg (b) & Danny Gottlieb (d). With these two musicians he set his first trio, & recorded MILLION WAVES (ACT 9221-2) in Dec. 94 . About this CD, Télérama writes : „This trio brings him to some musical spaces which he had not even imagined, & which are pure poetry“.

In the meantime, he’s playing in trio with Michel Benita(b) & Peter Erskine, recording on Michel Portal’s new album with Ralph TOWNER (g), & working with Ornette COLEMAN on one of his contemporary music pieces, „Freedom Statue“. In June 95 he’s invited by WDR BigBand in „Azure Moon“, with the YELLOWJACKETS & Vince Mendoza. In July 95, in Stuttgart Festival, he’s one of the guest guitar players to celebrate the „Universe of Jimi Hendrix“, besides Trilok Gurtu, Terry BOZZIO, Cassandra WILSON, Jack BRUCE, Vernon REID, David TORN, Victor BAILEY, Pharoah SANDERS… Recently he has been playing with John McLaughlin, Michel Petrucciani, Markus Stockhausen, Enrico Rava, Ray Anderson, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Dave Douglas, Wolfgang Puschnig…

In April 96, Nguyên Lê creates TALES FROM VIÊT-NAM (ACT 9225-2), 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. The CD hasc received a great welcoming from international critics : Diapason d’Or, Chocc du Monde de la Musique, Choc of Year 1996 Jazzman, 2nd best CD 96 forc JAZZTHING (Germany), Best CD 96 on radio TRS 2 (CH), „a minor masterpiece“

On 4/97 Nguyên Lê releases his 5th CD, 3 TRIOS (ACT 9245-2), with Marcc Johnson/ Peter Erskine, Dieter Ilg/ Danny Gottlieb & Renaud Garçia Fons/c Mino Cinelu. JAZZIZ Magazine USA says : « At times, jazz guitar can sound staid – but not in the case of N. Lê. He’s forever breaking boundaries for our benefit ». He has recorded 2 CDs with Paolo Fresu’s quartet : « Angel » (2/98) & « Metamorfosi » (4/99). On 5/98, 6th N. Lê record : MAGHREB & FRIENDS (ACT 9261-2). an exploration of Maghreb musical traditions & a deepb 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 (ACT 9269-2), entirely done in his home studio. He also has been nominated for the « Victoires de la Musique 1999 » award. His last CD, BAKIDA (ACT 9275-2), based on his regular trio with Renaud Garçia Fons (b) & Tino di Geraldo (perc, dr) plus guests from all over the world like Kudsi Erguner, Chris Potter, Carlos Benavent… This CD has been voted „best jazz album of the year“ by „CD Compact“ (Spain). ELB, a new trio CD has just been recorded in Rainbow studios, Oslo, with Peter Erskine & Michel Benita. He’s touring with Terri Lyne Carrington’s band, with Geri Allen, Matt Garrison & Gary Thomas & plays with Maria Schneider. Sept 2002 : 2nd CD of Huong Thanh Dragonfly (ACT 9293-2). In June 2002 he’s invited by the Metropole Orchestra (NL) to play his music arranged by Vince Mendoza. PURPLE (ACT 9410-2), an album celebrating Jimi Hendrix is released in sept 2002. In Sept. 2002 it’s n° 1 on the charts of UK magazine „Jazzwise“. Mangustao (ACT 9423-2), Huong Thanh’s 3rd album, released in Jan. 2004, is awarded as „Choc de la Musique“ by french magazine „Le Monde de la Musique“.

With his old friends Art Lande, Paul McCandless & Jamey Haddad he releases in March 2005: “WALKING ON THE TIGER’S TAIL” (ACT 9432-2): “A universe where the alliance between acoustic and electric, improvisation and writing, inner delicacy and virtuosic expressivity reach the ideal balance.” (Le Monde)

For his album HOMESCAPE (ACT 9444-2) he has invited his friends, the trumpet player Paolo Fresu and singer and oud-player Dhafer Youssef to his homestudio. The duos express the multiple musical experiences and influences of the artists and are mixed with electronic sounds created by Nguyên himself.


Nguyên Lê Streams Quartet
With Nguyen Lê git
Illya Amar vibes
Chris Jennings b
John Hadfield dr, eprc

« STREAMS » is a new quartet initiated by Paris-based guitarist Nguyên Lê and
dedicated to creating new sounds rooted in ancient cultures,. Its goal is to explore the multiple
dimensions of cross-breeding Jazz and Indigenous Music, as a fertile ground for composition and
improvisation. Not for any exotic effect, but for a deep need of coherent and contemporary
expression. Streams of very different cultures are moving the world and we want our music to
acknowledge and express it
Every musician in the band has been deeply involved in Jazz and Indigenous music:
Nguyên Lê was born in Paris from Vietnamese parents. Starting from a Jazz background, he has
been leading & participated to many projects about Vietnam, North and West Africa, the West
Indies, Turkey, India, Japan, and Korea for the last 20 years.
New York based drummer John Hadfield was brought up within the Jazz tradition of Kansas City
with Bobby Watson and has traveled extensively to India, Peru, Mongolia, the Middle East, and
Indonesia to learn the rhythms and instruments of each of these cultures.
Based in Paris, Canadian double-bassist Chris Jennings has established himself with Dhafer
Youssef, Karim Ziad, Bojan Z, Kudsi Erguner or ‚El Gusto‘ Algerian Chaabi orchestra.
French Vibraphone player Illya Amar collaborated with musicians from India, Argentina, Vietnam,
Brazil, and is currently working on arrangements of Jewish music.
While becoming an internationally acclaimed and sought after Jazz musician, over the years
Nguyên Lê has engaged in numerous arrangements of folk music from a variety of countries. In
the process, he grew as a musician, discovering each ethnic idiosyncrasy like a treasure. As a
result, his identity as a Jazz musician became more and more unique and special. Collaborating
with indigenous musicians definitely transformed his music and his spirit. The leading idea behind
the new Streams quartet is to focus on personal compositions fed by the transformative
experiences he underwent during this cross-breeding process. In doing so, he is also coming back
to one of the foundations of Jazz music, which was born through several journeys of cultures, from
African ritual music to American Blues & from French harmonic impressionism to Bebop harmony.
STREAMS love Claude Debussy and Béla Bartók, because they are masters of the integration of
folk elements in their own composing, eventually resulting in their utterly unique & distinctive
music. Another crucial goal for the project is to deepen the teamwork with collaborating partner
John Hadfield by writing music together for the band, sharing and confronting ideas, knowledge,
and inspirations.
A new world of inspirations is opening between tradition and modernity, East and West, North
and South. This band is about encounters between Jazz and Indigenous music, Paris and New
York, but also between generations. Music is one the best homes for individuals of different
generations to meet and act together. Finally, a more philosophical goal would be to show that
music is the ultimate language of peace. When different cultures respect one other and learn from
one other, beauty and friendships can emerge. In that sense, Jazz is the best music to establish
cross-cultural dialogues, because it has always been the most adaptive and open form of music.
You may download audio mp3 recordings of STREAMS here :


Nguyen Lê & Saiyuki
Nguyen Lê                 git
Prabhu Edouard        tabla
Mieko Miyazaki          koto

SAIYUKI  is the Japanese name for the « Journey to the West », the renowned Chinese novel written in the 16th century by Wu Cheng’en.

This text relates the expedition to India, during the 8th century, of bonze Xuanzang , a quest for sacred buddhist texts. His main escort in this epic fantasy is Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King. a very mischievous character, obsessed  by the secret of immortality. He‚s full of magic, can fly on the clouds or change himself in a genie or a fabulous monster. The Chinese Monkey King has also an Indian brother : Hanouman, one of the most popular gods of Hinduism. In China & Japan, the « Journey to the West » has always been an inspiration for some very diverse adaptations: painting rolls, Peking Opera, a Pop Opera from Damon Albarn, Mangas, TV serials, video games like Dragon Balll.

I would like to use this « Journey to the West » as the image of the journeys, real or imaginary, which bring the musicians of this band to create their music. Like a quest for a secret which has to go through the adventures of Elsewhere, while keeping the most precious treasure : our identity. From Viêt-Nam to India through Japan, we‚ll weave the threads of silk which draw an Asia with no borders. Every one has his own cardinal point – likewise the Western world aimed at by the Chinese novel is in fact India.  The Center is plural, Dialogue has started, connections open up : let‚s enjoy !

Each Saiyuki musician is blessed with a double culture, coming from tradition & modernity altogether. Each one is a virtuoso of his very specific instrument. Prabhu & Mieko can be genuinely traditional. One has played with the living god of hindustani flute Hariprasad Chaurasia, whereas the other can  a Japanese classical piece from 18th century.

But they are also living ethnic musicians, connoisseurs of styles & techniques of today‚s music, curious about new meetings & open to the potentialities our world can offer. My language is Jazz, but I have chosen to open it & to feed it with other essential cultures that fascinate me & remind me of my origins.

As a jazz musician I have as much fun improvising with them as with other great jazz musicians. The challenge is always there, as well as freedom & inspiration. Improvisation, this instantaneous understanding & creation process, will push away the limits of our cultural encounter. The program will be based on our own compositions, new interpretations of traditional melodies as well as the use of electronic soundscapes.

Mieko Miyazaki started the Koto at 9. She learned Koto & Shamisen at the famous Tokyo National University for Arts & Music. While still a student, she performed for the Emperor & the Empress of Japan. After getting brilliant diplomas, she became a highly demanded performer, mostly for Radio/TV shows & official events. She also started a career of songwriter & composer for TV, Radio, children songs & advertising. Since 1999 she has focused on her own projects, special bands & personal albums (10 on her name since 1995). She has lived in France since 2006 & multiplies cross culture meetings : Koto2Evans, a jazz quartet plying Bill Evans music on Koto, Voce Ventu, a polyphonic choir from Corsica, her own trio with violin & accordion, her regular collaborations with vietnamese singer Huong Thanh & jazz guitarist Nguyên Lê.

Prabhu Edouard is one of the few Tabla specialists in Europe. He was born in 1969 in Trichy (India) & has lived in France since 1975. He won a grant from the Indian government for studying Tablas in Calcutta with master Shankar Gosh between 1993 & 1999. He performed all around the world with several indian music masters like Hariprasad Chaurasia, V.G. Jog, Lakshmi Shankar, Ashish Khan. Open to contemporary encounters, he played with jazz, fusion, classical, world musicians as diverse as David Liebman, Marc Ducret, Magic Malik , Didier Malherbe, Nawal, Kyffiz, Sri Hanuman, Mukta, Hati, Mario Laginha, El Hadj & also Maurice Béjart, Jean-Pierre Drouet, Ragunath Manet, the Chemirami family, & Jordi Savall. Prabhu Edouard is also member of the Band Saiyuki founded by the French Viatnames guitar player Nguyen Le.


Programme Jungle – Ultramarine, (1985) Bloomdido BL0001
DÊ – Ultramarine, (1989) Musidisc 500052
Esimala – Ultramarine, (1991) Musidisc 500242
Pierre Louis Garcia – (1988) KPP 26
Wait – I.L.L.O.U.Z., (1988) Flat & Sharp 192422
Make Up – Sylvin Marc, (1990) JMS 052-2
Eurasie – Bruno Heuze, (1993) K Vox KVR 1006
Khora – Thierry David, (1994) K Vox KVR 1009
Strong Love Affair – Ray Charles, (1996) Qwest
Chansongs – Claude Nougaro, (1993) Phonogram 5211172
O.N.J. 88/89 – Orchestre National de Jazz, (1987) Label Bleu LBL 6511
African Dream – Orchestra National de Jazz, (1989) Label Bleu LBL 6521
Megaoctet – Andy Emler, (1990) Label Bleu LBL 6533
Headgames – Andy Emler, (1992) Label Bleu LBL 6553
Mejnoun – Safy Boutella, (1991) Indigo LBLC 2501
Anyway – Michel Portal, (1993) Label Bleu LBLC 6544
Cinemas – Michel Portal, (1995) Label Bleu LBLC 6574
Init – Ceccarelli/N. Lê/Moutin, (1993) Polygram 518265-2
Sketches – Vince Mendoza, (1994) WDR/ACT 892152
Miracles – Nguyên Lê, (1989) Musidisc 500102
Zanzibar – Nguyên Lê, (1992) Musidisc 500352
Million Waves – Nguyên Lê, (1995) ACT 9221-1
Tales from Viet-Nam – Nguyên Lê, (1996) ACT 9225-2
3 Trios – Nguyên Lê. (1997) ACT 9245-2
Maghreb & Friends Nguyên LÊ (1998) ACT 9261-2
MOON AND WIND Huong Thanh & Nguyên Lê (1999) ACT
Nguyên Lê Trio – Bakida – (2000) ACT 9275-2 – LC 07644
PURPLE Nguyên LE (2002) ACT 9410-2
Walking on the Tiger’s Tail Nguyên LE (2005) ACT 9432-2
HOMESCAPE Nguyên LE (2006) ACT 9444-2
FRAGILE BEAUTY Huong Thanh & Nguyên LE (2007) ACT 9451-2
SAIYUKI Nguyên LE (2009) ACT 9483-2
SIGNATURE EDITION Nguyên LE (2010) ACT 6004-2
SONGS OF FREEDOM Nguyên LE (2011) ACT 9506-2
DOC DAO Tung Duong & Nguyên Lê (2013) Dihavina (released only in Vietnam)
Celebrating the Dark Side of the Moon Nguyên LE (2014) ACT 9574-2
Nguyên Lê & Ngô Hông Quang : Hà Nội Duo ACT 9828-2

actual projects

Nguyên Lê Streams Quartet
With Nguyen Lê git; Illya Amar vibes, Chris Jennings b & John Hadfield dr, eprc

Nguyên Lê & Chris Jennings Duo
Nguyên Lê guitars,  Chris Jennings Duo

Nguyen Lê „Fire & Water“ Trio
fall 2015
With Nguyen Lê gtr; Chris Jennings ac Bass;Stéphane Edouard perc

New: Nguyên Lê & Ngô Hồng Quang (also with percussionist)
Nguyên Lê, Guitars Synths & Samples; Ngô Hồng Quang, Vocals, fiddle, Tính flute,

Neu: Nguyen Lê plays the music to the Japanes movie
„A Page of Madness“ from Karutta Ippeiji (1926)

Nguyên Lê, el. guitar, electronics & laptop; Mieko Miyazaki, koto & vocals; Nils Petter Molvaer, trumpet & electronics;
Jan Bang, live sampling; Manuel Solans, violin 1; Louise Salmona, violin 2; Emmanuel François, viola; Marie Ythier, cello;
Chris Jennings, double Bass

New: Nguyen Lê Octet: Dark Side of the Moon
With Nguyen Lê gtr, laptop; Claus Stötter tp;
Stéphane Guillaume ts, ss, fl; Antonin-Tri Hoang as, bcl;
DanielZimmermann tb; Illya Amar vibes;
Romain Labaye b; Gerge Borlai dr

Nguyen Lê „Celebrating Jimi Hendrix“
With Nguyen Lê gtr; Himiko Paganotti voc;
Etienne Mbappé e-bass; Gergo Borlai dr

Nguyen Lê & Saiyuki
Nguyen Le git; Prabhu Edouard tabla; Mieko Miyazaki koto also possible bwith guest: Guo Gan (chinese violin) see on youtube

Pics for download

Take a look at the press material
D860PF Moers, Germany. 20th May, 2013. Soloist Nguyen Le performs the project ‚The Dark Side of the Moon – A Tribute To Pink Floyd‘ with the NDR Bigband at Moers Festival in Moers, Germany, 20 May 2013. Photo: Bernd Thissen/dpa/Alamy Live News

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