Cuong Vu 4-Tet: Leaps of Faith (2011)
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Cuong Vu's Leaps of Faith is one of the most creative and thoughtful jazz recordings released so far this year, suggesting that jazz remains alive and thriving. Like the best of contemporary jazz, it's mixture of worlds is both atonal and melodic; free, but following form; complex, while also accessible.
This record is rich in musical experiences, beginning with a free-flowing interpretation of the classic "Body and Soul," that drifts along on Vu's tender trumpet lines. Another standard, "All the Things You Are," is set to the 4-tet's solid and unerring rhythm section. The two-bass approach to accompaniment, with Stomu Takeishi and Luke Bergman), provides an entirely original, and quite appealing interpretation of this enduring song, with Vu's quick, melodic solo in perfect contrast to his freer playing on "Body and Soul." His masterful trumpet lines are enjoyable, while the rhythm section brings an entirely new feel to the tune. The third standard on Leaps of Faith is an equally unique and engaging take on "My Funny Valentine," with hints of Miles Davis laid over sparse drum and bass playing that not only lays down a foundation over which Vu can improvise, but pushes its experimentation with tonality and rhythm.
Vu's original compositions also stand on their own: the trumpeter sounding much as he did on Pat Metheny Group's The Way Up(Nonesuch, 2005) on Leaps of Faith's title track, his frenetic energy jumping over a drilling rhythm section. Elsewhere, his tone is beautiful on "Child-Like (for Vina)" and, with "I Shall Never Come Back," the longest track at over fifteen minutes, Vu explores his most out-of-the-box writing and playing of the set.
Vu also covers George Harrison's "Something" in a way that's as ethereal as his take on "Body and Soul." He also delivers an endearing and beautiful version of Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell," the perfect way to close the record.
As Vu switches back and forth between gorgeous, melodic lines and raw blasts of energy, Ted Poor tip-toes all over the drum set, while the bassists deliver quickly walking-style lines and slow, chord-like accompaniment. One of the year's most creative records, Leaps of Faith is something more than a straight-ahead rehashing of classic tunes, while avoiding the occasionally inaccessible experimentation of some contemporary jazz. Sometimes feeling like jazz, other times more like rock, Leaps of Faith is a history of jazz, and a unification of traditions.
Track Listing: Body and Soul; All the Things You Are; My Funny Valentine; Leaps of Faith; Child-Like (for Vina); Something; I Shall Never Come Back; My Opening Farewell.
Personnel: Ted Poor: drums; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Luke Bergman: electric bass; Cuong Vu: trumpet.
Record Label: Origin Records
Style: Beyond Jazz