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 Upand 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 grouppreviously focusing on Metheny and long-time keyboardist Lyle Mays as primary soloistsnow 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 considerationand 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 eve r forward.
Personnel: Stomu Takeishi: bass; Ted Poor: drums; Cuong Vu: trumpet. Guest: Bill Frisell: guitar.