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Cuong Vu: Agogic Logic

By Published: August 8, 2011
AAJ: Let's talk about Luke Bergman; he sounds, at least tone-wise like your long-standing bassist Stomu Takeishi; is that fair comment, and if not could you tell us what he really sounds like?

CV: I don't hear him sounding at all like Stomu, I think he's totally got his own thing. Luke can play acoustic bass really well too. He mainly did his jazz studies in college and grew more out of rock music. He's into a lot of underground rock music. He also checks out a lot of contemporary classical music and a bunch of different stuff. He's one of those guys that's got his fingers in every type of music that you can think of. I also think he's more of a real electric bassist, in the sense that he takes care of business the way an electric player does when playing groove music in accordance with that lineage and tradition. That's not Stomu's bag at all; Stomu is kind of this wonderful anomaly, freak of nature type of bassist. No-one has, nor will ever sound like him again. He's truly one of a kind. He plays more in the middle to upper areas and takes up a lot of sonic territory. When he and I play together it's definitely a duet. In whatever context it is, it's always he and I simultaneously and equally making decisions together. With Luke, he can do that too, but he's more of a supportive bassist. What's special about Luke is that he's able to do that while making it work within any musical context that is dealt to him, to us, in the moment, as well as make it go wherever the collective wants to go.

AAJ: You and D'Angelo go back a long way together; how long had it been since you'd last played together before Agogic?

CV: A long time. We hadn't played together since '98 or '99. We just went different ways; he went into a different scene, kind of. It was all related, but he went off into his own zone and I went off into my own zone. I was just focused on doing what I wanted to do and I wasn't playing with that many people at the time. His brain cancer was what brought us back together. Once you make a deep connection with someone in friendship, it's always there to tie you together, even if you stray far apart for a long time.

AAJ: It sounds like he's made a remarkable recovery, because he plays great on Agogic and brings plenty of energy to the mix. His own compositions like "En Se Ne" and "Too Well" are incredibly funky, grooving tunes, but his beautiful, slower tune "Felicia" provides tremendous contrast; as a group were you looking for strong juxtapositions on this recording?

CV: Neither Andrew or I approach music that literally. We just write stuff and we go with what we hear. It just so happens that what you hear on this record is what we heard at that time when we put the music together. It's not like we consciously say:"I'm going to put that with this because it's so disparate but I'm going to make it work." We just tried to pick tunes that worked together as a record. Those pieces didn't actually go together that well and it took a lot of work to come up with a good sequence that produced a coherent musical narrative.

AAJ: Your track "Acid Kiss," like a lot of your music, seems to start from a place of complete freedom and gradually takes form; it's an approach to composition and improvisation which is almost the opposite to a lot of more classic jazz; is this process of composing getting easier with the years or do you still wait for inspiration to strike?

CV: It's still as hard as ever. Maybe it comes down to the type of person I am. I'm hyper critical, especially of myself, so when an idea comes, if I don't strongly gravitate towards it, you know, "This is it, I love this, I can work with this" then I tend not to want to work on it and just wait for the good one to come along. Or maybe it's that I'm not a serious composer since I haven't spent the kind of extensive time intensively honing my compositional skills the way people whom I consider serious composers have. Real composers would just work with their intellectual ideas and eventually they would find the reason an idea came to them in the first place and the solutions that that idea present. It's more like science. I don't do that so my process is not as deep as theirs. What I do is wait for something that I really like and then work on it until it becomes a piece that's suitable to my needs. I'm not a real storyteller in that way, and I'm not a musical scientist, which is how I view them. If I sat down every day and wrote music for at least three hours each day and worked on bits of music that I didn't like that much to try to make it work I'd become a much better composer, but since I don't do that it's still as hard as ever [laughs]. I'm still trying to become the great player. I guess I'm still emphasizing playing at a high level more than composing. So I guess that's why I'm an improviser, which allows me the opportunity to work with and deal with many of the same elements as composition.

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