Cuong Vu 4-Tet: Leaps of Faith (2011)
The order and presentation of music on a recording or in a recital are every bit as important in the music producer's skill set as is choosing what music to include. Had trumpeter Cuong Vu introduced his Vu-Tet's Leaps of Faith with the title piece, or "Child-Like (for Vina)," it would have been easy to dismiss the recording as a well-intentioned experiment, descending into noise and chaos before making its point. Instead, Vu and co-producer/bassist Luke Bergman wisely introduce the album with three tried-and-true standards: "Body and Soul"; "All The Things You Are"; and "My Funny Valentine."
But, Vu's view of this music is light years away from that of Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and Chet Baker. Instead, Vu drapes these familiar melodies over an often writhing, anxious undercurrent of rhythm and dynamic created by the double electric bass pairing of Bergman and Stomu Takeishi, along with drummer Ted Poor. The stark juxtaposition of the familiar with the chaotic deepens understanding of the melody. Vu introduces what he is trying to do with the familiar before venturing into the unfamiliar, to provide a better understanding of his vision.
Vu furthers his approach with the title piece, "Leaps of Faith" whose harmonic form and overall architecture are based on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Vu, like Charlie Parker did before him with "Embraceable You," sets up a new melody while the band sets a dramatically different stage for the composition. In this, Vu achieves perfection in his approach.
The first three standards are studies in comparisons and contrasts. "Body and Soul" proceeds in a moody, ethereal space, one that captures the emotional landscape of the lyrics in a 2001: A Space Odyssey (MGM, 1968) sort of way. The same is true of "All The Things You Are" cast almost as a backdrop for a remake of A Clockwork Orange (Warner Brothers, 1971) only with a bright and shiny storyline. "My Funny Valentine" would sound perfectly at home in the soundtrack of Blue Velvet (Paramount, 1986), so spacious and omnipotent is the soundscape created by this odd ensemble.
Vu's trumpet veers more to the plaintive, long-noted tone of Tomasz Stanko than the tart midrange of Miles Davis and acolytes after him. Vu is best understood in the aforementioned "Valentine," George Harrison's "Something" and, in a fit of genre- harvesting brilliance, Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell." This music is the collision between the secure and consonant with the disruptive and dissonant: meaning it reflects real life, where there are no white picket fences, only chain-link ones protecting paradise.
Track Listing: Body and Soul; All The Things You Are; My Funny Valentine; Leaps of Faith; Child-Like; Something; I Shall Never Come Back; My Opening Farewell.
Personnel: Ted Poor: drums; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Luke Burgman: electric bass; Cuong Vu: trumpet.