Cuong Vu: Vu-Tet (2008)
On Vu-Tet, his follow-up to It's Mostly Residual (ArtistShare, 2005), trumpeter Cuong Vu continues to mine similar turf, ranging from the deeply lyrical to the aggressively hardcore. But with considerable touring under the belt of his regular working trio, featuring bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Ted Poorwith and without Vu-Tet's guest saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speedthere's an emerging group identity as concerned with texture and color as it is playing that is at times delicate and ethereal, elsewhere visceral and fervently propulsive.
With the possible exception of Norway's Nils Petter Molvaer and Arve Henriksen, there's simply no other trumpeter on the radar today as innovative in blending extended technique and electronic processing to expand the possibilities of his instrument. Utilizing both to dramatic effect, Vu turns the opening "Intro" into a sonic tour de force that begins atmospherically but gradually intensifies, with Takeishi creating his own layers of sound and Poor playing orchestrally rather than rhythmically. It's an evocative opener that sets the stage for "Accelerated Thoughts," a high-velocity tune with a knotty theme that breaks down into a staggered rhythm before heading into a grungy solo section for Takeishi, his fretless bass heavily distorted and supported by Poor's relentless backbeat. Vu's virtuosic solo alternates between rapid-fire lines and dissonant screeches, while Speed delivers an equally unfettered tenor solo of considerable abandon.
While there's no shortage of freedom for the group, Vu's writing is becoming increasingly sophisticated. The texture, power and improvisation may suggest otherwise, but the lengthy development of "Solitary Confinement" is unmistakably informed by contemporary classical music, with Vu and Speed's clarinet winding a long unison line in and around Takeishi and Poor's counterpoint. Speed's solo doesn't enter until a third of the way in, with Takeishi and Poor once again turning more angular and assaultive. While the jazz tradition is buried deeply, and despite the atmospheric ambience at the beginning of his solo, there are traces of swing and post bop in Vu's phrasing before everyone heads, once again, for greater extremes.
Despite the idiosyncrasies of compositions like the rhythmically complex but ultimately grooving "Never, Ever, Ever," Vu remains capable of deep lyricism. The balladic "Just a Memory" builds a singable theme over Takeishi's Jaco-like playing and Poor's economical kit, while "Now I Know" is darker but equally melodic, with a collective improvisation around its spare changes made all the more dense through Vu's processed trumpet and Takeishi's thick tone.
While Vu became more visible when he joined the Pat Metheny Group in 2001, his work on the guitarist's more eminently accessible Speaking of Now (Warner Bros., 2002) and ambitious The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005) hasn't compromised his own evolving voice. Instead, Vu-Tet capitalizes on and expands upon the successes of It's Mostly Residual, with even greater compositional depth, textural breadth, improvisational freedom and intimate group interaction.
Track Listing: Intro, Accelerated Thoughts; Solitary Confinement; Just a Memory; Never, Ever, Ever; Now I Know (for Vina); I Promise.
Personnel: Cuong Vu: trumpet; Stomu Takeishi: bass; Ted Poor: drums; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet.