Born 01/14/1959 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, Libération.
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 w/ Marc Ducret, Yves Robert, guitar w/ Eric Barret), Singers (Claude Nougaro, Ray Charles), Contemporary Music (Marius Constant, Mauricio Kagel), Ethnic Music : African & Caribbean with ULTRAMARINE , Algerian with Safy Boutella, Indian with Kakoli, Vietnamese with his "Dan Bau" (traditional one-stringed instrument) teacher Truong Tang.
In sept. 87 he was chosen by musical 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 " written & recorded on CD " O.N.J. 87 " & " LUNIK II " co-arranged with Dominique Borker & performed by the O.N.J. 89.
In sept. 89 he records ULTRAMARINE's 2nd album " DÉ " &, in may 1990, his 1rst CD 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 ...
In may 92, with Paul McCANDLESS on winds, Art Lande (p), Dean Johnson (b) & Joël Allouche (d), he records his 2nd album ZANZIBAR. 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 Vince MENDOZA. N. Lê plays on 3 of his projects : "Jazzpaña", "Sketches" with D. LIEBMAN, C. MARIANO, P. Erskine, & "Downtown", with Russell Ferrante. In April 94 he was invited to be the soloist of "The New Yorker", a suite by Bob BROOKMEYER, with Dieter Ilg (b) & Danny Gottlieb (d). With these two musicians he set a new trio & recorded the CD "MILLION WAVES" in dec. 94 . About this CD, Michel Contat, from 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 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 the WDR BigBand in "Azure Moon", with the YELLOWJACKETS & Vince Mendoza. In July 95 he's invited by the Stuttgart Festival to be one of the 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, Markus Stockhausen, Michel Petrucianni, Enrico Rava.
Nguyên Lê' s current main work is "Tales from Viêt-Nam", a project on rewriting Vietnamese music, with a 8-piece band blending jazz & traditional musicians. The CD has been awarded as "Diapason d'Or", "Choc de l'Année 96" (Jazzman-France), 2nd "Best Record of the Year" (Jazzthing-Germany) & "Best Jazz CD of the Year" (Radio TRS2-Switzerland). In April 96, Paris, Banlieues Bleues fest., with stage director P. J. San Bartolomé Nguyên Lê has created "Of the Moon & the Wind", a global show wich adds traditional & contemporary vietnamese dancers to the band.
In January 1997 Nguyên Lê recorded his album "Three Trios". It features the guitarist in three different settings including bassists Marc Johnson, Dieter Ilg and Renaud Garcia-Fons and drummers Peter Erskine, Danny Gottlieb and Mino Cinelu. Following the release of "Three Trios" Nguyên Lê toured in the USA, winning great critical acclaim for his concert in New York's legendary Birdland. In fall 1997 he joined Paolo Fresu's highly acclaimed new quartet.
Together they recorded "Angel". As early as 1992 Nguyên Lê had been working on projects of the Algerian singer Safy Boutella. 1997 the Franco-Vietnamese guitarist followed these traces deeper into the Maghreb. On "Meli Meli", the most recent album of Cheb Mami (with Khaled Algeria's most popular singer) Nguyên Lê not only plays guitar, he also produced some of it's songs. Finally in early 1998 he asked Cheb Mamis drummer Karim Ziad to introduce him to the world of the Berbes and popular Algerian music. Yet again he brough together a multicultural band with the Serbian pianist Bojan Zulfikarpasic, Austrian saxophonist Wolfgang Puschnig, Italian jazz musicians Paolo Fresu and Stefano Di Battista, the Berb-singers of B'net Houariyat, Cheb Mami himself and two friends out of Lê's Vietnamese project: Huong Thanh and Hao Nhien. With them he recorded "Maghreb and Friends".
"Unlike the CDs "Tales from Viêt-nam" or "Maghreb & Friends", Bakida does not deal with a specific culture. I rather see it as a synthesis of attainments and emotions, an inner motion that bears so many influences and dreams", is what the Vietnamese-French guitarist Nguyên Lê says about his new work, Bakida.
Bakida is partly the consequence of the guitarist's musical life up to this present point in time. Nguyên Lê, born in Paris in 1959, and the child of Vietnamese immigrants, has always striven to be versatile. Lê had actually studied fine arts and philosophy; the musical career of this self-taught musician was jump-started after he was called up to play in the French Orchestre National de Jazz under Antoine Hervé. He went on to work with such world class musicians as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Andy Emler, Carla Bley, Coutney Pine, Gil Evans, and Quincy Jones.
He was especially thrown into the spotlight when he replaced Al DiMeola for performances of Vince Mendoza's flamenco-jazz project, "Jazzpana" (ACT 9212-2), as the project went on the road. The music on his own recordings has taken a different direction every time: on Tales of Viêt-nam (ACT 9225-2), the guitarist respectfully combined the music of his homeland with jazz. On Mahgreb & Friends (ACT 9261-2), Lê's orientation was mainly on the music of Algeria.
It has always been difficult to categorize Nguyên Lê's music. Along with Lê's sheer musicality, much of the attraction and appeal lies within this eclecticism. The youthful forty year old ignores all borders, which led the Franfurter Allgemeine newspaper to attest 1994 after his appearance with Vince Mendoza`s "Sketches" (ACT 9215-2) at the Berlin Jazz Festival to the following: "Nobody plays guitar like him." Actually, it is no surprise that Lê attempts to draw from every musical style and category. While on the one hand he was stamped by the strict tradition-conscious culture of his elders, on the other hand he was continually exposed to the rainbow multi-culture that is Paris, constantly absorbing, intermixing , and transforming the myriad influences. This is "World Music" in the best sense of word.
The musical core of Bakida consists of Franco-Spanish bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons, Spanish drummer Tino di Geraldo. The "Trio Sand" is playing together since 1997 and performed in almost 100 concert. On particular pieces longtime musical friends of Lê's join in with the trio. These guests include Spanish bassist Carles Benavent, Algerian percussionist Karim Ziad, Vietnamese flutist Hao Nhiem Pham, Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, Turkish ney player Kudsi Erguner, Norwegian pianist Jon Balke, American saxophonist Chris Potter (recent winner of the Danish Jazz Par prize), and the French marimba player Illya Amar.
Bakida contains 10 pieces filled with vibrant colors and rich contrasts. One moment the music is meditative, the next moment the listener is struck by its forceful energy. It contains elements of jazz, rock, funk, and classical music. Lê and his fellow musicians undertake a trip that runs from the Mediterranean coast to the South China Sea, effecting unexpected encounters with Turkey, Norway, America, Spain, Sardinia, Algeria, and Lê's Vietnamese homeland along the way. It's amazing to what extent the guitarist has molded a homogeneous music out of these diverse elements. The music doesn't sound artificially constructed or arranged, but rather has a natural, inevitable feeling and flow. As Nguyên Lê says, "May all those colors, accents, and spices gather together in one sincere voice, like a central current flowing through the streams of cultures: West and East - middle and extreme, South and North - radiant and magnetic."