• The seahorse genus
  • An anatomical subdivision of the brain
  • A mythological sea-horse

I don’t have any definitive information about which meaning of ‘hippocampus’ Nguyên Lê had in mind when he wrote the Hippocampus tune but, as it forms the opening track of his Streams album, I am inclined to think the tiny sea creature with a horse-shaped head was the inspiration.

Nguyên Lê was born in France to Vietnamese parents. He is a self-taught jazz guitarist who has made quite a name for himself in European jazz circles. Discogs lists 21 albums with Lê as band leader and another 40 or so appearances on other artists’ releases.

The music is very much jazz but Lê blends in elements of Indian and traditional Vietnamese music, Oriental melodic shifts and North African rhythms. Refusing to be confined by any one style, Lê’s repertoire includes a full album of Vietnamese pieces (Tales From Viêt-Nam), an album tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Purple) and another of pop/rock song covers (Songs of Freedom) featuring tracks by The Beatles, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin¹, Cream and Janis Joplin. No-one would accuse Lê of being a musical snob.

anchoredFor a fish the seahorse is a terrible swimmer. The top speed of a Hippocampus zosterae is a mere 1.5 metres per hour, which makes it the slowest-moving fish in the world. They spend most of their time anchored by their prehensile tail to a piece of seaweed or coral.

bandNguyên Lê’s Hippocampus is a laid back instrumental featuring the clean crisp sound of his own electric guitar and the ringing tones of Illya Amar’s vibraphone, anchored by the acoustic bass of Chris Jennings and the undercurrent of John Hadfield’s drums. The track drifts along gently on the tide while shafts of sunlight sparkle on the water. It is a good place for not going anywhere in a hurry.


The brain structure called the hippocampus plays an important role in memory formation. Medical students are sometimes told that they can remember this because, if they saw a hippo on the campus, they would never forget it. The George Washington University has taken this to heart by installing a gaping hippopotamus sculpture in the grounds. I bet its students never forget the function of the hippocampus.


As I was writing this post Mrs Crotchety’s phone gave a tuneful tinkle and announced, without a trace of irony, “You have a new memory”.


  1. Have you ever heard Whole Lotta Love with some rapid beat box vocalisations?

3 thoughts on “Hippocampus

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