Kim Sinh,
Music from Vietnam #4:
The Artistry of Kim Sinh

(Caprice, 2003)

Guitar aficionados and world music devotees will find much to admire in this collection of 10 tracks from Vietnamese guitar virtuoso Kim Sinh. There is an elegance and a precision to his playing that should find a wide audience in the West. Most of the compositions are originally from cai luong, the Vietnamese musical theatre, but are more closely associated with chamber music than what the Western world thinks of as musical theatre.

The tunes range widely. There are soft and delicate compositions as well as some that are rhythmically driving, but all are played with great sensitivity and skill. Kim Sinh, 70 at the time of this 2001 recording, has been playing since the age of 8 and has been blind since birth. His tonal palette is astounding, due to both his expertise and to the assortment of instruments he has mastered. The primary one is the Vietnamese guitar, on which, according to the liner notes, "the spaces between the bands on the neck have been hollowed out quite deeply, so it is possible to play glissandi, shakes, and other embellishments of each individual tone by pressing down the strings or pulling them sideways," similar to the effects derived from a sitar. Kim Sinh also plays a variety of Vietnamese traditional instruments, as well as a "Vietnamese slack string guitar," a new instrument based on western guitars, but with eastern adaptations. On half of the tracks, Kim Sinh is accompanied by his son, Kim Thang, on nguyet (bass) and guitars, and their blend is exquisitely familial.

The music itself is difficult to describe. There are elements of both western and Asian traditions, but the result is singularly distinctive. At times the listener is reminded of Segovia, and at other times Ravi Shankar, and occasionally you may even hear the twang of the American West. The Asian strain, however, is predominant. Whatever influences you may find in these unique recordings, you will find delicacy and power, intensity and serenity side by side.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 7 February 2004