Lan Doky explores the world of jazz, but it would be a
difficult task to determine whether he guides his piano or vice
versa. The two unite into a single entity as he evokes sounds
from his instrument while the piano reaches into him to bring
forth renewed inspiration. Niels approaches modern jazz like a
pioneer, rarely retracing his steps, producing music with a
texture of expression that appeals to a broad range of fans.
Critics have reveled at his use of bold articulate phrasing to
deliver the harmony and melody that have become his signature on
the jazz piano. The styling, sound and arrangements are always
daring, but with a personal touch that underlines emotion in the
latest album Asian Sessions (Emarcy/Universal) boldly
approaches the mystery of Vietnamese and Chinese music to fuse it
with contemporary jazz. The set marks a continuation of its
predecessor, Niels Lan Doky, which merged popular tunes with his
learned his art from the masters. While living in Denmark as the
leader of the Danish Radio Band, the renowned trumpeter Thad
Jones took Niels under his wing. He urged his 17-year-old
protégé to attend the Berklee College of Music, where Niels
graduated with honors. From there he moved to New York City and
forged a reputation in the mean streets of the clubs there,
playing with jazz leaders such as Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Charlie Haden, Ray Brown, David Sanborn and Woody Shaw.
1986 he made his recording debut with Here and There. The
set launched him as a sought after soloist and accompanist. On
the works to follow Niels features as a leader or sideman with a
broad and varied range of musicians including Jack DeJohnette, Al
Jarreau, John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Gino Vannelli and Toots Thielemans.
1995 Niels formed the Doky Brothers with his brother Chris Minh Doky. With Chris on bass and Niels at the keyboard,
the pair recorded two internationally acclaimed records for Blue
Note. The recordings reinforced his position as the most
influential jazz pianist in Denmark, and a player on the global
stage. Niels is the only jazz pianist to crossover and top the
pop charts, and the only producer to win gold at home.
the Danish royal family has given Niels a singular nod of
distinction, after he composed the score for a TV documentary
about Queen Margrethe II in 1994. The queen would add to this
recognition a year later when she visited South Africa and
presented Niels' Misty Dawn to President Nelson Mandela.
Lan Doky is the Danish piano player of his generation. His
accomplishments are rooted in the love for music that his father
- a classical guitarist - and mother - a successful contemporary
vocalist - instilled in him at an early age. Although he started
out as a guitarist, Niels - luckily - switched over to the piano
at the age of 11 after hearing Scott Joplin's compositions in the
film, The Sting. From that point, the journey of exploration
Musical Marco Polo
Fusion of styles and cultures have been attempted before, but the
haunting mystery of Asian music remains a vast and largely
unexplored territory. With his new album, Asian Sessions,
Niels Lan Doky reaches across oceans to unite the enigma of
Eastern melody with the bracing edge of contemporary jazz.
is a certain richness in the music of Vietnam and China. I wanted
to incorporate these elements into my music. It's like adding new
spices to give a dish new flair," Niels says.
compositions on the new set reflect a continuance of the musical
styling - the integration of another genre into a jazz framework
- that Niels set in his selt-titled previous album. Niels Lan
Doky (Verve-Forecast) explored the depths of classic and
current popular hits, showing how innovation can add new
dimension to familiar songs.
time Niels wraps Vietnamese and Chinese musical elements into the
melodies to highlight his personal piano style. The harmonious
blend of ancient and the new, the familiar and the remote, give
the new compositions a swirl of world-music flavor.
was a big step into uncharted musical waters. Lots of things
revolve around what happens in Asia, economic trends for one, and
it's a region of growing importance. I attempted to reflect that
in my music."
Sessions features Niels' touring band - Lars Danielsson,
acoustic bass; Jeff Boudreaux, drums; and Xavier
Desandre-Navarre, percussion - who were also the players on his
previous outing. Drummer Paul Wertico, known throughout the world
of jazz as a long-standing member of the Pat Metheny Group,
contributes his talents on half of the tracks. To complement the
band, Niels recruited The China National Traditional Orchestra,
the exceptional Vietnamese female vocalist Thanh Lam, and a broad
range of musicians playing traditional Vietnamese and Chinese
of the material consists of original Doky compositions,
supplemented with a few, exhilarating interpretations of Chinese
or Vietnamese folk songs. Niels wrote some of the tracks together
with his Asian guests. Thanh Lam wrote the Vietnamese lyrics to
Niels' stirring composition "Bien Cuoi" and the
Vietnamese producer/keyboard player Quoc Trung co-arranged an
enchanting version of the Vietnamese folk melody, "Mot
Thoang Tây Hô", with him.
family tree has half of its roots in Denmark and the other half
in Vietnam, with a link to China. While he had been toying with
the idea of merging Asian sounds into his music, a trip to China
and Vietnam in 1998 provided the real inspiration for the new
collection. Like Marco Polo, he returned home with totally new
I began working with the Vietnamese musicians in the
pre-production phase, I realized that their music and mine had a
lot in common - much more than I had expected. It must come from
my Vietnamese genes!"
Sessions was recorded in Hanoi, Beijing, Paris, Copenhagen
and Gothenburg. The Vietnamese guest artists come primarily from
the world of pop and folk music, while the Chinese musicians have
a background in classical music. The masterful assimilation of a
variety of styles and moods casts a distinctive world-music edge
to the jazz piano arrangements that have earned Niels his
reputation in the realm of jazz.
track, "Dreaming With Open Eyes", opens with an exotic
orchestral overture. The departure cuts you adrift, into the
uncharted waters of fantasy, until the central piano theme then
coaxes you back to the harbor of the mind.
stimulates the imagination, fantasy, by piquing interests, but
doesn't attempt to answer questions. The listener has to complete
All Odds", a song made popular by Phil Collins, is a direct
link to Niels' previous album, but the addition of traditional
Vietnamese instruments sparks a new mood. Ironically, it's the
most jazz-sounding piece of the set, despite its pop roots.
fusion of the integral elements of jazz with the Ca Tru-an 11th
century style of Vietnamese folk music - vocalist Thanh Lam
interprets " Mot Thoang Tây Hô" to relate an image of
a foggy sunrise at a lake in Hanoi. She sings an octave or so
lower that what is normally associated with Vietnamese music and
it doesn't matter if you understand the lyrics or not. Jazz
assimilates perfectly with the Vietnamese instrumentation/vocal,
and vice versa, to give the listener a melancholic longing for
the homeland, wherever that may be.
of the nine tracks on Asian Sessions opens doors to a
labyrinth of emotions and moods. Niels Lan Doky's piano leads you
into it and guides you out again while all the musicians on the
set add enjoyment along the way.
Charles Ferro (regular
contributor to Billboard magazine)/August 1999.