Cuong Vu: Vu-tet (2008)
One way to gauge the strength of a jazz player, especially one who also composes, is to be able identify his or her vision regardless of the changes that occur in the output over time. Does he or she have an attitude, a voice, or a musical message that draws one in, possibly challenging assumptions along the way?
With Vu-tet, trumpeter and electronic sound painter Cuong Vu has created an extremely strong and integrated work that is at turns invigorating, assertive, thought-provoking and just plain beautiful. His music can be approached from many vantage points because he views it as the sum of all of his influences and interests.
The album's quartet is anchored by the amazing electric fretless bassist Stomu Takeishi, who has been with Vu since Bound (OmniTone, 2000). Takeishi is the essence of the modern jazzman in that he plays his role in Vu's music with the feeling of complete freedom as his powerful melodic lines provide counterpoint to Vu or saxophonist Chris Speed, while simultaneously adding enormous forward propulsion to Ted Poor's drums. His contributions are so essential that he ought to be considered a co-leader. Speed is the addition to the trio, playing both the foil to Vu's trumpet in his solos (as on "Never, Ever, Ever") and as a parallel voice producing a combined brass/reed timbre.
Vu's compositions allow Takeishi's freedom while providing structure for the band, and he uses electronics to extend his range of sounds and control the overall environment. The band is not a studio creation however, and the sounds on the recording can be done on stage.
Indeed, the music is alive, fearless and powerful in itself and the electronics, except on "Intro," are used sparingly, or rather are such a part of the sound that they cannot be separated. Vu's range is impressive as the tracks vary in style from the frenetic and charging "Accelerated Thoughts" to the ballad-like and melodic "Just A Memory," "Now I Know (For Vina)" and "I Promise." Even within a track the mood can change dramatically as it does on "Solitary Confinement."
While Vu's voice is unique and personal, his compositional range does bring to mind pianist Satoko Fujii's rock-influenced quartet on the one hand, with Minerva (Independent, 2002), and trumpeter Russ Johnson's Americana tracks on Save Big (OmniTone, 2005), on the other.
Exciting and exhilarating, Vu-tet is a mature and cohesive work that will surely be on many a best-of list for 2008.
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.