* The reviews that I’ve included here all, combined, tell a pretty accurate story of where my head is these days (as well as the from when the reviews were published up to now). Of course, these writers are very gracious in their assessments and it’s an extremely nice ego stroke! -cv
Reviews of “Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny“
BBC – Mike Greenblatt
Cuong Vu leads his trio in a meeting with guitarist Pat Metheny.
Guitarist/composer Pat Metheny has always loved to jam with those who could match his unending enthusiasm, inventiveness and chops. To that end, he’s performed/recorded with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau. Now, the Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch) on a dense seven-track meandering adventure.
The recipient of 20 Grammys in 12 separate categories over the course of 30 years, Metheny, whose band-The Pat Metheny Group (founded in 1977)-holds the record for the most consecutive Grammy Award-winning releases (seven), has met his match with Vu. Who? Vu! Dude’s played with Bowie! A graduate of the New England Conservatory, this is his ninth CD as a leader. He’s been a mainstay within the Pat Metheny Group on trumpet and is currently an associate professor in jazz studies at the University of Washington.
Bassist Stomu Takeishi fortifies his electricity with electronics. Sure, he holds down the bottom, but he also loops his bass electronically, almost like what Jaco Pastorius was getting into towards the end of his life. Ted Poor, according to Metheny, is a drummer’s drummer who can alter his style, approach and feel to whatever the task at hand requires. He shines on opener “Acid Kiss” yet lays back unobtrusively on closer “Tune Blues.”
Iconoclast Vu writes complex circuitous inventions that test the limits of not only his bandmates but the listener as well. Not meant as background music, unless you concentrate and lose yourself in his mix’n’match melodies and their not- so-obvious harmonic constructions, you will not hear what he’s puttin’ down. Go put on some Kenny G if you want background music. This stuff, when turned loud enough, is foreground entertainment for hipsters, daddyo. The more you listen, the more you derive its singular essence: freedom. In the hands of the wrong folks, that could mean obtrusive cacophony. In the hands of masters like these, it could only mean entangled–and enlightened–bliss.
AllMusic Review – Matt Collar
Despite the somewhat misleading title, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny, trumpeter Cuong Vu has a lengthy history with the legendary jazz guitarist that goes back to Metheny’s Grammy-winning 2002 album, Speaking of Now. Since then, Vu has played with Metheny enough that he is a regular part of the conversation when discussing the guitarist’s more adventurous contemporary works. Despite his pedigree, having graduated from the New England Conservatory and worked with such luminaries as David Bowie, Myra Melford, Laurie Anderson, and others, Vu is a maverick. A highly gifted, forward- thinking musician, Vu often eschews the more clarion, declarative aspects of his chosen instrument in favor of macabre growls, dampened tones, and improvisatory lines that skitter forth with the mad convulsions of a housefly. Pairing him with the uber-controlled precision of Metheny might seem like an odd choice at first. A paragon of contemporary jazz, Metheny is known more for his warm tone and clean lines than downtown N.Y.C. edginess. However, he is also a mutative artist whose skills bridge wide stylistic plains from languid folk to swinging post-bop and aggressive fusion. It’s also easy to forget that Metheny played on the late Ornette Coleman’s 1986 release Song X, an album of frenetic yet deceptively restrained free jazz that works as a useful touchstone for what Vu and Metheny have created here. Joining the trumpeter and guitarist are Vu’s bandmates bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Ted Poor. Together, the quartet plays a set of original songs that straddle the line between ambient tone poems, exploratory modal jazz, and punk-inflected noise jams. The opening “Acid Kiss” brings to mind a ’70s sci-fi film, with Vu’s mournful trumpet setting the tone as the trio straggles in behind him, each note illuminating the dark alien landscape. In warm contrast, “Seeds of Doubt” finds Vu and Metheny playing in tandem, their crisp, pointillist melody soon giving way to a delicately soaring solo from Metheny. Splitting the difference, cuts like “Tune Blues” and “Not Crazy (Just Giddy Upping)” showcase the group’s knack for pushing swinging post-bop in explosive, ear-popping directions. Anchored by Takeishi’s thick doom bass and Poor’s hyper-kinetic drumming, Metheny and Vu wrangle hold of the harmolodic blues of “Not Crazy (Just Giddy Upping),” body slamming each line until the whole sound is less jazz band and more like Ornette Coleman fronting Iron Maiden.
POPMATTERS.COM – Will Layman
Trumpeter Cuong Vu is the real deal on so many levels that fans of great music should all know his name. He hasn’t been shy about getting it out there—he has, after all, been playing, recording, and touring with Pat Metheny for nearly 15 years. He played an integral role in dozens of amazing albums beginning in the mid-1990s with leading figures from New York and the Upper Northwest, including Bobby Previte, Laurie Anderson, Chris Speed, Dave Douglas, and Myra Melford.
It was Vu’s masterful 2000 debut, Bound, that made me start following him carefully, and he credits his vocals on that record with “tipping the scale” in getting him the gig with The Pat Metheny Group, where he plays and sings.
That Vu has played for so long with Metheny—and features the popular guitarist on his latest recording, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny—tell us many great things about both musicians. Metheny may not be the best-selling jazz instrumentalist of the last 40 years, but he is certainly the most popular jazz player who regularly ventures into experimentation. Metheny can be daring but also as melodically appealing as a pop-jazz figure, and in Vu he found a musician who similarly understands the way that acid can be mixed with sweetness, or vice versa.
Last month, Nonesuch (Metheny’s current label) released Vu’s record on the same day as the latest from his employer, a two-disc set of recordings by the guitarist’s Unity Band.
Vu’s most reliable outfit over the years has been a trio featuring Stomu Takeishi on bass and Ted Poor (or, earlier, Jim Black) on drums. Takeishi, who plays a five-string electric or acoustic bass guitar, is a master of much more than a walking bass line. Using technique and some creative pedal magic, he generates a remarkably orchestral webbing of sound beneath Vu’s melodies. This combines with Poor’s tumbling, Elvin Jones-ish percussion and a trumpet approach from Vu that also has texture in mind.
For example, about five minutes into “Telescope” on the new record, you can hear Takeiship furiously strumming his bass and Vu playing a gurgling growl on trumpet such that the band sounds at least ten-men-strong. The overall effect is a band that does not really need a chording instrument such as a piano or guitar.
In the past, then, the trio has successfully welcomed front line partners such as reed specialist Chris Speed. On Bound they were supplemented by keyboardist Jamie Saft, who mostly provided an overdriven Rhodes sound that reminded us that Vu was an early re-discoverer of the sublime beauty of the Miles Davis electric bands of the 1970-75 period. And the new encounter with Pat Metheny—perhaps to folks’ surprise—is in that vein.
Pat Metheny comes on board with the trio as a versatile partner, sometimes acting like Chris Speed or another front line “horn” beside Vu as a melodic foil and sometimes playing the role of Saft, adding chordal accompaniment that is definitely not about playing the changes in a pretty, ornamental way. The result is a Cuong Vu/Pat Metheny record that sounds, properly, like it was made on Vu’s terms and in which Metheny was an excited and equal (and equally daring) partner.
In some cases, the band plays like the classic Ornette Coleman quartet, with guitar and trumpet playing together on a knotty little blues (“Tune Blues”) and then letting each player improvise over a loose, lazy stroll by Poor and Takeishi. Metheny uses a variant of his guitar synthesizer here, and I can honestly say that it is the first time I’ve been fully in love with this sound. It allows him to bend his tone further than usual in slow, amazing slurs that mimic Vu’s ability to make his trumpet sound like the human voice. Both soloists take their time, letting notes rises and fall in beautifully controlled smears and then bobbing and dancing like they are utterly at ease.
Other tunes are more gorgeously expressionistic, like the Miles-ian “Acid Kiss”. The trio starts it off, working with a slight echo on the trumpet and bass, muttering and musing before we hear the first of their guest: a bit of wah, then some synthesized distortion, then what seems like feedback. And this is Pat Metheny. As the intensity increases, he enters with the guitar synth, rising into a sharp wall of sound next to Vu’s trumpet, in harmony, in unison, in counterpoint, until the leader gives way to a blues-drenched solo that rips upward in cliffs of sound.
Not that Metheny eschews his classic chorused guitar sound on the album. The ballad “Seeds of Doubt” puts trumpet and guitar in telepathic unison, leading to a Metheny solo that is as lyrical as anything he has ever recorded. “Not Crazy (Just Giddy Upping)” is popping, with a syncopated line that uses the same unison at a fast tempo, and it goads the two main soloists into a pair of solos that delight: Metheny tap dancing like a drunk bopper and Vu using tonal variation to build a great wipe of wind, squeezed upward.
For me, “Tiny Little Pieces” is the set’s masterpiece, with these four musicians sounding utterly orchestral. Metheny provides a sonic backdrop to the trumpet theme and improvisation that could be five guitars at once, reaching for a thousand different sounds, all appropriate. At the midpoint of ten minutes, Vu’s raspiest tone finds a blowsy unison with Methany’s expressive guitar synth, and then the guitarist rises into a solo that ups the energy consistently, Poor stoking the fire, until the whole band is back in and ends it on a bed of scraping noise. Vu woooooo!
Reviews of “Leaps of Faith”
NYTIMES – Nate Chinen
The voracious sweep of postmillennial jazz has plenty of exemplars but few truer than the trumpeter Cuong Vu. Over the last decade he has upheld a dreamlike sound informed by post-bop but just as rooted in noise pop, grunge and ambient minimalism. He has an invaluable partner in the bassist Stomu Takeishi, who shares his fluency with electronics and his fondness for immersive lyricism. Together with the smart young drummer Ted Poor they have tended to an aquatic, darkly inviting, calmly exploratory style.
Each of their previous two albums featured a guest: the guitarist Bill Frisell, then the multi-reedist Chris Speed. “Leaps of Faith” has a fourth member too: Luke Bergman, who until recently was one of Mr. Vu’s music students at the University of Washington. But Mr. Bergman, who plays electric bass and also mixed and helped produce the album, isn’t an interloper here. His contribution changes the metabolism of the group — freeing up Mr. Takeishi, for one thing — without undermining its identity.
The album begins with three standards, which isn’t common practice for Mr. Vu. They land transformed, more remixed than covered, with creeping momentum and shadowy detail. But Mr. Vu is largely true to their melodies, bringing a terse caress to “My Funny Valentine” and austere clarity to “Body and Soul.” He gets teasingly atmospheric with the theme of “All the Things You Are,” laying out its distinctive intervals over a glacial groove. (He does much the same on “Something” by George Harrison, and “My Opening Farewell” by Jackson Browne.)
There are aspects of Mr. Vu’s tone that suggest the softer side of Miles Davis, or the moody poise of a Davis emulator like Mark Isham. But Mr. Vu has more subversive designs, which become clearer on the album’s three originals, notably “Child-Like” and “I Shall Never Come Back,” which develop like ominous weather systems, with sculptured distortion and drones. The title track, a collective improvisation, recasts John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” as hold music for a doom-metal help line.
“Leaps of Faith” was recorded live in Seattle last spring, but you could get pretty far into it before you register the presence of an audience. When you finally hear some applause, it sounds distant, filtered: yet another effect in an album reverberating with them.
Review: It’s a bold endeavor to believe you can invoke freshness and vitality into thinly worn standards like “Body and Soul,” “All the Things You Are” and “My Funny Valentine.” Trumpeter Cuong Vu meets the challenge head-on with imaginative results on Leaps of Faith, a quartet outing with wide-open improvisatory exploration, melding consonant lyricism with chaotic tumult.
Vu, a Seattle-based musician who has worked with a host of renowned musical personalities, such as guitarist Pat Metheny, stands out as a voice of reason among the intentional chaotic buildup from drums and dual electric bass. His emphasis on tone and delivery of a clear-cut theme, whether that of a standard or one of his own, such as “Child-Like,” creates stand-still moments and sets up majestic climaxes. The trumpeter’s tranquil rendering of George Harrison’s “Something” is a disc highlight.
Electric bassists Luke Bergman and Stomu Takeishi conspire to create a multitude of effects-driven sound clusters, at times embracing the expected role of bottom-end provider, and at times completely eschewing it, building up sonic tension with drummer Ted Poor. This unique pairing works exceptionally well on the title track, a playful experiment on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” As the two play off of each other, distinguishing each bass part from the left and right channels makes for interesting listening, although information regarding channel separation details isn’t available.
Leaps of Faith is a musical paradox, conveying stillness and serenity through blatant expressions of noise. The results are brilliant.
The NYC Jazz Record (Double Review of Vu 4-tet and Speak)
March 2011 – Matthew Miller
For all of his sonic manipulations, kinetic energy and creative focus, trumpeter Cuong Vu never strays far from a strong melody. It is a unifying element in a professional career that has spanned nearly 20 years with his own idiosyncratic groups and associations with artists like Pat Metheny, David Bowie and Laurie Anderson, among many others. On two new releases, Leaps of Faith and Speak, Vu is joined by a coterie of like-minded musicians who share the trumpeter’s vision and seem eager to push him into ever more exciting musical territory.
Leaps of Faith opens with a starkly atmospheric interpretation of “Body And Soul” that begins with a 30-second wash of sound, punctuated by sonic blips from electric bassists Stomu Takeishi and Luke Bergman. Vu emerges with a familiar melody made barely recognizable due to the piece’s glacial pace and lack of ornamentation. The entire performance has an otherworldly quality to it – like a familiar voice slowed down on tape. Vu takes a similar approach on “All The Things You Are” and “My Funny Valentine”, stretching the melody to the breaking point and in effect creating an entirely new piece.
The members of Vu’s 4-tet are equally committed to the leader’s approach. Takeishi – a long-time associate of Vu’s – often provides a foil to the trumpeter’s melodic line and melds perfectly with drummer Ted Poor’s sinewy percussion. Rounding out the unorthodox 4-tet is Bergman – a former student of Vu’s at University of Washington in Seattle and now a frequent collaborator – who somehow manages to supply chords and effects without stepping on Takeishi’s toes.
The group’s interpretation of Vu’s “Child-Like (for Vina)” is most illustrative of the 4-tet’s commitment to group cohesion and controlled freedom. Following Vu’s trumpet on an upward arc that climaxes ten minutes later with a storm of distorted bass, bracing percussion and ripping brass lines, the band’s flawless execution and collective focus is thrilling.
Vu made waves a few years ago when he left New York for his hometown of Seattle and in the ensuing years, he has helped to create a thriving scene both as a player and a professor at the University of Washington. The trumpeter’s bandmates on Speak are all former students, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it listening to the album. While the teacher’s influence can be heard throughout, it’s clear that the ensemble has moved way beyond a mentor/mentee relationship. Vu’s trumpet melds beautifully with saxophonist Andrew Swanson’s lines on pieces like “People of Cats”, an episodic and assured composition by bassist Bergman, but often takes a backseat to the contributions of his bandmates.
Each of the album’s six compositions is penned by a member of the quintet, with the exception of Vu, and from the keyboardist Aaron Otheim’s prog-ish opener “Amalgam In The Middle” to drummer Chris Icasiano’s furious and aptly-titled “Pure Hatred”, it’s clear that this young band takes its composing as seriously as its playing. While spontaneity and improvisation figure heavily into the performances on Speak, the thematically heavy compositions always end up sounding through-composed. While this undoubtedly has a lot to do with a composer’s modus operandi, it also speaks to the deep rapport of the group. It’s certainly nothing new for Cuong Vu and if this strong album is any indication, it’s a practice he has passed on to a new generation.
AllAboutJazz.com – Jerry D’Sousa
Cuong Vu 4-Tet: Leaps of Faith – May 3, 2011
Over the last 10 years, trumpeter Cuong Vu has made an impact as an innovator who filters music through the prism of his imagination. He has been agile enough to fit into bands as diverse as those led by Myra Melford and Pat Metheny, and has also carved a niche for himself as a leader who turns his compositions into distinctive portraits of startling imagery. On Leaps of Faith, he focuses his attention on three jazz standards, two pop tunes and three originals.
Vu’s proclivity for the unusual can be witnessed in the lineup, which also includes two electric bassists and a drummer. The basses go beyond being rhythm instruments, extrapolating the role of the instrument to add layers of enticing textures.
“Body and Soul” gets a lyrical wash from Vu. His lines are crystalline and precise, as they sail and soar with an encompassing passion. He stays in that realm except for a quick acknowledgment of the roiling bed set up by bassists Stomu Takeishi and Luke Bergman. The atmosphere is different, however, on “All the Things You Are,” where Vu balances gentle permutations with free interjections, using subtle weaves and a few broad strokes to shape the tune’s dynamics and character. Drummer Ted Poor embellishes the beat with a spry approach that says as much through space as it does through accents.
The tempo of “Something” is pulled back for a lingering, aching look, until Vu raises the tune to a swell and improvises on the melody. It is now a full-blooded yearning, with an iridescent spark before it settles once again into a contemplative mood. The changes are electrifying.
“Leaps of Faith” blends several stylistic founts. Rock and heavy metal are seen in this visionary blend. Vu lets volatile shards erupt from his trumpet, adds smears and drives the momentum atop the whoop of the bass and the complex structures of the drums. All of the players are of a mindset that propels innovation to dizzying heights.
The expansive “I Shall Never Come Back” underlines the virtuosity of the band. Improvisation is kicked into high gear by Takeishi and Bergman in a welter of feedback, while Poor opens an arsenal of rhythm. Vu dwells on the melody, and then propels that into a volcanic eruption in a swirling cluster of sound. Power finds its glory in this rich complexity of rhythm.
As before, Vu stamps his authority on his original material, but adds another notch to his creative flair through the finesse he brings to the covers.
Reviews of “It’s Mostly Residual”
Rochester Music Reviews 9.14.05 – by Ron Netsky
The first sounds you hear on Cuong Vu’s new album are ethereal trumpet moans joined by equally otherworldly clusters of notes emanating from a guitar. These sounds herald the beginning of a musical marriage made in electronic heaven. On his latest album, It’s Mostly Residual, cutting-edge, electronic trumpet virtuoso Vu is joined by guitar wizard Bill Frisell. The album finds Vu at his improvisational best and Frisell in his wildest, most abandoned spirit in years. Vu’s excellent trio, with Stomu Takeishi on bass and former Rochesterian Ted Poor on drums, provides a constantly shifting foundation on which Vu and Frisell build towering sonic temples.
Those opening strains on the title tune lead to a beautiful melodic passage on trumpet. But just before listeners are lulled into a sublime state all hell breaks loose. That’s the dichotomy that Vu and Frisell create throughout Vu’s six original tunes. “Patchwork” and “Blur” consist of similar flirtations with melody only to be jarred back to reality by cacophonous wails. On “Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse,” driven by Poor’s drums and Takeishi’s bass, Vu and Frisell stampede through an electronic jungle of sounds at once primitive and futuristic. At times the digital delays gel into concrete phrases; at other times they veer off into pure abstraction. I’m not sure if Vu is dealing in metaphor, but with music organized and chaotic, at once over-the-edge and strangely engaging, he’s created an apt tone poem for the 21st century.
All Music Guide – review by Dave Lynch
Walk the Line might have been an Academy Award- winning biopic about Johnny Cash released in 2005, but nobody in the world of art and entertainment walked the line more skillfully that year than trumpeter/bandleader Cuong Vu on his It’s Mostly Residual CD. OK, drawing parallels between a film about a country music icon and a CD by this phenomenal trumpeter may be stretching things a bit. But It’s Mostly Residual unquestionably has a widescreen cinematic quality, and the album also showcases Vu and his bandmates carefully treading a path between two forms of jazz whose adherents (audiences and musicians) don’t often mingle. Can contemporary (Pat Metheny, Mark Isham) and avant (Chris Speed’s yeah NO, Dave Douglas’ Sanctuary) jazz find a place to coalesce? Perhaps Cuong Vu, whose widest audience exposure in the mid-2000s is probably through his membership in the Pat Metheny Group, is the man to make it happen. Vu emerged in the 1990s as one of the most distinctive voices on the so-called New York downtown scene, with a stronger embrace of electronic soundscapes than many of his peers. And yet, Vu has chops to burn when he sticks his unadorned acoustic horn in your ear, and it’s this dichotomy that helps to make his music so compelling. It’s Mostly Residual often places the two sides of Vu in startlingly abrupt juxtapositions; at other times those two sides are organically melded and sonically integrated, demonstrating both Vu’s acumen as composer and arranger and the in-the-moment improvising skills of his extraordinary band.
At the beginning of the opening title track, Stomu Takeishi’s fluid basslines, Ted Poor’s skittering percussion, Bill Frisell’s crisp yet warm guitar-picking, and the whooshes of Vu’s trumpet coalesce around a gently insistent rhythm — a memorable theme then emerges, stated by Vu with elongated notes drawn across a dramatically building chord progression. Comparisons with Mark Isham may seem inevitable, given the music’s form as well as atmosphere, so one might initially be tempted to hear “It’s Mostly Residual” as beautiful soundtrack music in the Isham mold — that is, until Frisell explodes the piece with a deep slash of guitar and the music comes apart at the seams with looping electronic effects, Frisell cutting loose, and the pulse barely suggested as Poor thrashes away. Takeishi leads the way back to the theme and spectacular crescendos return the listener through a forest of loops to a final understated resolution — all this, and the CD’s diverse journey has hardly begun. And as for one of those startling contrasts, “It’s Mostly Residual” has scarcely had time to fade away before the intro of “Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse” immediately ditches the electronics for a mix and performance that are so crisp, tight, and impossibly punched-up that they are almost zany and madcap, recalling opening salvo “Garbo” from the Avant label CD Ragged Jack by the Saft/Vu quartet back in 1997. The acoustic clarity is soon overtaken, however — Frisell’s cranked-up guitar blasts into the mix, electronic treatments are reintroduced, and unearthly sounds are soon looping and colliding across the stereo field. (Vu the trickster fools the listener on occasion: that onslaught of between-station radio static is the sound of his trumpet before electronic processing is applied.) The band momentarily lingers in electric Miles territory before escalating the tension into a full-bore assault perhaps a tad past “neurotic” on the madness meter — and then suddenly, before you can catch your breath, the band is back at the introductory manic theme and the piece is over.
And so it goes: “Patchwork” begins and ends in lovely and comparatively understated fashion — but don’t be fooled, there are sonic surprises around every corner at the heart of the piece. “Brittle, Like Twigs” bursts with staccato energy and funk, “Chitter Chatter” melds cinematic high drama to a rollicking high-spirited conclusion for one of the CD’s most engaging rides, and the concluding “Blur” ends the album on an elegiac note, again beautiful and cinematic but with the pyrotechnics this time held somewhat in check. In support of the always exemplary Vu, longtime bandmate Takeishi remains one of the most innovative electric bassists on the planet, slippery and limber but powerful as he leads the band through the changes, pouncing on emphatic low notes exactly when needed and cutting through the spiraling electronics with his characteristic harmonics-laden tone; drummer Ted Poor’s performance is equal to anything laid down by previous Vu collaborators Jim Black and John Hollenbeck; and Frisell, while actually in the role of special guest, is a full participant in the proceedings, whether joining Vu in thematic unison lines, marshaling his own battery of looping effects, or burning through edgy solos that are miles away from the sometimes laid-back Americana of his own albums. Vu proves here that he can indeed walk the line, and the bottom line is that he is not too “out” for the Pat Metheny crowd on one side or too “in” for the avant jazz crowd on the other — his balance is perfect, and It’s Mostly Residual (available through www.cuongvu.com) is one of the finest CDs of both-sides jazz released in the mid-2000s.
All About Jazz – review by John Kelman
Since relocating from Seattle in ’94, trumpeter Cuong Vu has emerged as an important voice on the New York Downtown Scene. While his reputation has continued to grow with solo releases including ‘00’s Bound and ‘01’s Come Play With Me, his four-year relationship with jazz megastar Pat Metheny has seen his name grow familiar to an ever-expanding audience.
Vu has appeared on Pat Metheny Group’s last two recordings—‘02’s Speaking of Now and this year’s ambitious The Way Up—and two lengthy world tours. His ability to blend a historical frame of reference with a forward-thinking vernacular and his uniquely textured sound processing techniques has seen him emerge as a player of incredible depth and breadth. So much so that the group—previously focusing on Metheny and long-time keyboardist Lyle Mays as primary soloists—now has a contrasting and powerful new solo voice as part of its rich palette.
While Vu has undoubtedly learned more than a thing or two from time spent with Metheny, he was recruited for exactly those qualities that have made his own releases so intriguing. With advanced textural explorations an equal part of his overall melodic conception, It’s Mostly Residual finds him continuing to expand on the direction he’s been pursuing all along.
Vu augments his regular trio with bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Ted Poor by adding guitarist Bill Frisell, thus giving the album an even larger sonic landscape, drawing from Frisell’s own ability to pull otherworldly sounds from his guitar in full force. Frisell has come under fire in recent years for some of his musical decisions, but albums like this affirm that he’s being unfairly misjudged. He’s as capable of extremes and jagged edges as ever, and the choices he makes for his own recordings are simply part of a broader musical continuum that compels him to approach a wealth of styles with equal consideration—and always an unmistakably personal bent.
Vu’s writing, which can combine legato melodies with freer explorations, running the gamut from delicate and spacious to dense and aggressive, has never been better. The folk-like simplicity of the title track’s lyrical theme feels custom-written for Frisell’s relaxed phrasing, even when the song heats up dynamically, building to its powerful climax. The six lengthy compositions are all characterized by an uncommon ability to find links between surprisingly disparate ideas. “Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse” may revolve around a jagged and nervous rock groove, but that’s only the beginning, as the quartet moves into less defined territory, while “Patchwork” migrates from its gentle beginning to a more propulsive middle part that alternates form and chaos.
While fans of the Pat Metheny Group’s approachable aesthetic may find some of the extremes of It’s Mostly Residual something of a shock, it’s proof that the best artists can find ways to incorporate new experiences into their personal worldview, and there’s a clear line through all of Cuong Vu’s work that continues to push ever forward.
OneFinalNote.COM – by Joe Milazzo
At its best, so-called jazz-rock fusion can combine the thrill of collective improvisation, the hummable licks and anthemic harmonies of rock music, and the rhythmic insistence of dance music—and at high, physically taxing volumes. But the persistent maligning of the genre by major jazz critics has tended to stifle our sense of what was so important about Weather Report, Tony Williams’ Lifetime, early Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, Miles Davis’ On The Corner–Agharta period, and, yes, even the slick “CTI sound”. The meaning of funk, the electric blues, and concrete musics to the fusion pioneers of the late 1960s and early 1970s cannot be reduced to modishness and a desire to shift massive units. McLuhan and Leary were very much in the intellectual air, and there was increasingly a sense that art could redefine, and not just represent reality. Many of today’s critics and historians view such utopianism with distaste, however, and are consequently deaf to fusion’s deep and abiding influence on so much contemporary electronic popular music. “Fusion” as practiced by so many leading jazz artists has indeed become something of a dead end, but artists such as DJ Shadow, Supersilent and ubiquitous soundtrack mastermind David Holmes have carried the major innovations and insights of the style forward.
Trumpeter Cuong Vu, with the release of his third leader session, has to be counted as one of the major jazz instrumentalists working in the spirit of the best fusion. Perhaps the fact that he uses tropes familiar from the work of predecessors as well as current colleagues such as MMW, the Greyboy musicians and Bill Laswell, is perhaps more coincidence than anything else. For, in place of the fleeting utopia of the rave—the insistent, hypnotic music, the lights, the dance-drunkenness, and the ecstasy—Vu’s music, like the music that has come out of Ornette’s electrified Harmolodic ensembles, views convergence and ascension from a different perspective.
On Come Play With Me, Vu’s raw, breathy tone is shrouded in refracting, misty clouds of echo, delay and feedback, all of which serve to intensify the instrument’s essential brassy qualities. The result is something both hard-boiled and dream-like. The opening track, “Dreams, Come Play with Me”, is vaguely threatening, but the melody has a sing-song—but not simple—sweetness. Vu’s own solo hardly deviates from this thematic material, but it exerts its own fascination, sounding not unlike the mumbles and complaints of someone who talks in their sleep. On the lovely “Vina’s Lullaby”, the influence of Vu’s current employer, Pat Metheny, is clearly audible. As John Litweiler has pointed out, Metheny’s music possesses a creeping, pastoral narcosis, the sound of grass growing over the rusted hulks of skyscrapers, cars, and the basic forms of human folly. Still, the rhythms here prove to be more angular, and more engaging, than those Metheny favors, and the performance avoids cheap ambiance. Bassist Stomu Takeishi deserves the lion’s share of credit. Takeshi’s bass has been processed to take on the granularity, the grit and stickiness not unlike what you can hear on old Milt Buckner and Bill Doggett recordings. Double-tracked, sampled and distorted, Takeishi is the harmony instrument here. Moreover, he and drummer John Hollenbeck are extremely limber players, and they avoid the stiffness that sometimes plagues Nils Petter Molvaer’s music, which is akin to Vu’s in its use of a contemporary electronic aesthetic. (Enrico Rava, in his incarnation as the ECM artist who recorded The Pilgrim And The Stars and The Plot with John Abercrombie, Palle Danielsson, and Jon Christensen in the mid-1970s, seems to have had an influence on Vu as well). “Amniotic” does add guitar smears and glass organ crescendos, but the effect is decorative, and the piece overall reinforces a sense of comfort running so deep it stirs currents of unease. The result is that the unbridled aggression of the closing “Again and Again and Again” carries a real jolt. Vu’s trumpet line here could be something turned out by a digital sequencer, but, because he is playing trumpet, he has the chance to change inflection, to alter the angle of his attack, and add and subtract nuance with each repetition. That fact—that Vu is still a trumpet player—makes all the difference. Midway thorough, the piece’s character changes, and, over twangy bass loops that sound like a machine running down, Vu solos in rough, highly vocalized, rapid phrases that defy tempo but seem to be headed in a specific direction. “Again and Again and Again” is the most satisfying and exciting track here, because it is most in the present, both in what it reflects and what it creates in and of itself.