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Vu-Tet by Cuong Vu

Trumpeter and composer Cuong Vu has been a stalwart on the Downtown NYC scene since his arrival in the mid-1990s. A veteran of numerous genre-bending musical projects that coalesced around the quirky and adventurous Knitting Factory venue, Vu has worked in nearly every imaginable stylistic setting; from acoustic jazz to non-idiomatic free improv to oddball art-rock. Vu’s open-minded approach, virtuoso chops, and silky, luxurious trumpet tone resulted in high-profile gigs and recordings with Gerry Hemingway, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Cibo Matto, and Myra Melford to name just a few. However, Vu is probably best known to most jazz fans as a member of Pat Metheny’s band, with whom he has been recording and touring since 2002.

"Vu-tet" is Vu’s 5th CD as a leader, and his second for the innovative Artists Share label. Here, Vu blends his distinctive trumpet technique with an equally distinctive approach to the use of electronics. His compositions feature catchy yet angular melodies supported by poly-stylistic grooves which consistently display an advanced rhythmic sensibility that is firmly rooted in the more complex aspects of funk, rock, and various ethnic musics. A couple of the more aggressive, uptempo pieces ('Accelerated Thoughts', 'Never Ever Ever') refer to choppy drum'n'bass rhythms, without getting bogged down in gimmicks. On 'Never Ever Ever' drummer Ted Poor and bassist Stomu Takeishi spin the d&b feel of the opening section into a whirling dervish 6/8 to support a Vu's crackling trumpet solo before settling down into a bone-crushing Led Zep-style 4/4 stomp for Speed's scorching tenor. Here, and elsewhere on "Vu-tet", the thematic and rhythmic motifs in the different sections are related by subtle tempo modulations; double-time, half-time, triplets, suspended triplets, etc. Takeishi and drummer Poor negotiate these shifts with incredible subtlety and grace.

Vu's use of electronics is primarily atmospheric - almost orchestral - and somewhat reminiscent of the sorts of things I've heard from Pat Metheny and Mark Isham. On 'Intro,' Vu and Takeishi use live sampling and reverb to slowly build a chaotic, crashing wave of sound. Vu employs a similar approach with much greater subtlety on the lone ballad, 'Now I Know.' As the piece progresses, electronic shadows and ghosts slowly accumulate in the background, producing an eerie yet dramatic platform for the piece's climatic finish.

The soloing throughout "Vu-tet" is simply astounding. Especially noteworthy is Chris Speed's rich, dark tenor sax - here, it's the aural equivalent of a Curt Schilling fastball circa 2001 - hard, heavy, nasty and cutting. He's been featured as a clarinetist on so many recordings lately that I literally forgot what a brilliant and explosive tenor saxophonist he is. Stomu Takeishi's distinctly fuzzed bass is featured most prominently on 'Just a Memory,' where he simultaneously evokes Jaco Pastorious and Hugh Hopper in a single grandiose sweep. As an improviser, Vu combines a truly distinctive approach, fresh ideas and technical prowess. His is an effortless, liquid tone - so rich that you might think he is playing a flugelhorn. His solos often climax in bursts of rapid fire notes that are smeared and slurred together so as to resemble static or white noise - similar to techniques used by Bill Dixon in a completely different context.

Cuong Vu's "Vu-tet" has it all - great compositions, amazing improvisations, rich chunky sounds, and fresh new ideas. What's more, the Artists Share website offers a variety of options - you can download a myriad of extra tracks, interviews, and videos as well. But, even by itself, "Vu-Tet" is an invigorating rush!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Cuong Vu
  • CD Title: Vu-Tet
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Artists Share
  • Tracks: Intro, Accelerated Thoughts, Solitary Confinement, Just A Memory, Never Ever Ever, Now I Know (for Vina), I Promise
  • Musicians: Cuong Vu (trumpet, electronics), Stomu Takeishi (electric bass, electronics), Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Ted Poor (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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