Having recently immersed myself in Miles Davis' In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969), the journey to the music on trumpeter Cuong Vu's Ballet (The Music of Michael Gibbs) is a necessarily short one. Davis had been working up to his "Freedom Principle" throughout his recordings with is second great quintet, featuring Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. He achieved with his recordings closing out the 1960s, a compromise between the noises of the "New Thing" as espoused by late John Coltrane and Archie Shepp and his own vision of something equally free distributed in a greater area of silence.
In addressing the music of composer Michael Gibbs (mentor to vibraphonist Gary Burton), Vu, with guitarist Bill Frisell and his usual 4-Tet members, bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Ted Poor use five Gibbs melodies as the jumping off place for some free flowing melodic rumination. Frisell is present with some of his most progressive playing in recent memory, eschewing volume modulation and other techniques recent to his playing. On the opening title piece, the guitarist's tone is one of jangly reverb, mostly clean with an edge that occasionally pokes Vu, who weaves in and out of the instrumentation, keeping everything properly shaken up. The piece comes together in the coda, ending things on a consonant upswing. The band makes use of this productive formula again on "Feelings and Things," bringing things into a blues orbit with "Blue Comedy" where Frisell and Vu gives the piece a parallel workout. Forward thinking, smart, and well-paced Ballet (The Music of Michael Gibbs) is a welcome answer to Vu's previous recording, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch, 2016), a recording well-represented at All About Jazz. The two juxtapose well.
Ballet; Feelings And Things; Blue Comedy; And On The Third Day; Sweet Rain.
Cuong Vu: trumpet; Bill Frisell: guitar; Luke Bergman: drums; Ted Poor: bass.
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