A unique and alluring sound combining Vietnamese, African and jazz influences
Where else but Melbourne would you be likely to find a band featuring a Sri Lankan born West African percussion master and a Vietnamese traditional musician, who also carves up the jazz guitar a-la Pat Metheny, mixing it with players diversely experienced in Western pop, jazz, and classical traditions? Melbourne is just such a melting pot and Way Out West is just such a band.
A chance meeting in 2001 between eclectic trumpeter/composer, Peter Knight, and Vietnamese traditional music virtuoso, Dung Nguyen, marked the beginning of a remarkable collaboration and led to the formation of Way Out West, a band that continues to draw inspiration from the cultural vitality and diversity of Footscray with its new album, Old Grooves for New Streets (Jazzhead).
Dung learnt his instruments, which include the 16-stringed Vietnamese zither (the dan tranh), and the dan bau (a single stringed instrument also called the monochord) from his grandfather while growing up in Vietnam, continuing a tradition of many generations. He came to Australia when he was 16 and continued his studies at Monash University where he developed a love of jazz and won prizes for his guitar studies. Dung’s fluency in both Vietnamese music and jazz means collaboration with Peter Knight and the rest of the band really is collaboration: the creation of a new sound rather than a pastiche of pre-existing sounds. In fact many reviews of Way Out West’s first album, Footscray Station, note the unified approach the band achieves: “The supple seamless vibes they produce easily transcend any glib notions of multicultural kitsch” (Herald Sun), “That these exotic sounds blend so well with jazz is a mysterious Melbourne alchemy” (Sydney Morning Herald).
When it was released in 2003, Footscray Station achieved considerable national and international acclaim, It was reviewed very favourably in New York’s Cadence Magazine and included in the top 10 jazz releases of that year in the Sunday Herald Sun critics’ poll. It also received widespread national airplay and led to numerous festival invitations around Australia including the prestigious Wangaratta Festival of Jazz.
Footscray Station was praised for its “shimmering beauty” and “evocative atmospheres”, it encouraged the listener to kick off their shoes, sit back and let the sounds wash over them. Old Grooves for New Streets will do something very different. As its name suggests the new album takes groove as a starting point, the listener will be more likely to keep those shoes on and start to move around the room rather than kick back; to brew up a strong short black rather than a hot chocolate.
This shift in approach is due in no small part to the newest member of the group, drummer Dave Beck, who joined about two years ago. His energy and virtuosity have driven Way Out West to explore different approaches to groove and the rapport between Dave and percussion master Ray Pereira is irresistible. Add Howard Cairns’ earthy bass stylings, the crackling energy of the horn section (Paul Williamson saxophones, Peter Knight trumpet) and the bubbling ethereal sounds of Dung’s instruments and you have music that is alluring, groovy and utterly unlike anything else you’ve ever heard.