French guitarist Nguyên Lê has been considering the music of Jimi Hendrix for the past decade, first performing Hendrix’s music informally with Richard Bona when Bona lived in France too. However, the wait has been worth it because the years have given Lê the opportunity to rethink Hendrix’s tunes, reharmonizing them, infusing them with the language of other cultures, breaking up the meters. In the process, he has gotten into the essence of Hendrix’s music, rather than trying to reproduce his licks on guitar, even though Lê himself admires the intensity of Hendrix’s performances.
Instead of playing the Hendrix music straight, much as innumerable other guitarists have, Lê has updated it. For instance, "Purple Haze," one of the best-remembered of Hendrix’s compositions, is put on edge with a 15/8 meter that drummer Terri Lyne Carrington performs with grace and force, not to mention the fact that she sings the lyrics as well. Also contributing to the success of Lê’s arrangements is electric bassist Michel Alibo, whose throbbing push roots the tunes metrically at the same time that he energizes them below Lê’s finely articulated and yet rousing solos.
For "Manic Depression" and "If 6 Was 9," Lê recruits singer Aïda Khann, who not only sings with emotional content but also contributes to the success of Lê’s arrangement of the song in 12/8 and his translation of the works into a Malian dialect. By modernizing the feel of the songs to adapt to cultural changes in the world since Hendrix left us, Lê, even though he takes his own energetic solos, assumes the role of group leader, more interested in its unified sound than in individual highlights.
One of the arrangements that does
feature Lê, as well as Alibo, is "South Saturn Delta," where the stringed instruments carry the melody, as well as the vamp which gives the song its recognizable form and force. "Third Stone from the Sun," on the other hand (whose title inspired that of the TV show named similarly) consists of Corin Curschellas’ spoken address over Lê’s synthesized soundscape and then his luxuriating sustained notes from the guitar. And "Voodoo Child," with its references to African trance music through polyrhythmic drumming moves the music from the realm of rock to that of an all-encompassing cultural nature.
With varied arrangements that pay respect to the original inspiration for the music while expressing it through different voices and seeing it through different views, Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix
allows Nguyên Lê finally to come up with arrangements of the complexity and originality that he intended with his first Jimi Hendrix projects 10 years ago.