Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Cuong Vu: Cooking in Seattle

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
Returning to home town Seattle after 15 years on the east coast has been a good move for trumpeter Cuong Vu judging by the outstanding music on these three CDs and the movement he has largely inspired in Seattle's young creative musicians. Bassist Luke Bergman is a constant on these recordings, adding new depth to Vu's 4-Tet on the uniquely atmospheric live recording Leaps of Faith, and wonderful grooves to Agogic, the self-titled debut of an exciting quartet. A little further back, 2010''s Speak is a rousing endorsement of Seattle's young, creative music scene, and Vu's importance as its guiding influence.



Table & Chairs Music


Agogic is a high-energy quartet bristling with ideas, with a collective out-of-the-box approach to music that's endlessly absorbing. Cuong Vu and alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo lock horns after a 12-year hiatus, and team up with two of Seattle's leading voices from the emerging creative scene, Luke Bergman and drummer Evan Woodle. The resulting brew grooves, rocks, and simmers, leaving the ears and senses tingling.

There's a wonderful coupling of the rhythm section's rock aesthetic with the modern jazz vernacular of Vu and D'Angelo throughout, particularly on the funk-rich "En Se Ne" and driving "Too Well," which feature sinewy brass unison lines and some pretty wild squeals and skronks from D'Angelo. Not to be outdone, Vu unleashes a breathless solo on "Use 2."

There is, however, real form to these compositions, and as exhilarating as the solos are they never hijack the tunes. The slower numbers provide some of the most fascinating group play; a brooding melancholy inhabits Woodle's sci-fi "Old Heap," which builds almost furtively in intensity. There's romance in the achingly beautiful lyricism of D'Angelo's "Felicia," and Vu's "Gently Shifting" has his signature epic minimalism and wide-open textures which share the vocabulary of guitarists/composers Bill Frisell and Chris Schlarb. Stirring stuff altogether.

Cuong Vu 4-Tet

Leaps of Faith

Origin Records


It may require a leap of faith to entertain Cuong Vu's overhaul of jazz standards, but it was no easy step for Vu either, after 15 years doing his own thing. Innovative, too, the use of two bassists, with Luke Bergman holding down the bottom end and freeing Stomu Takeishi up to roam wide sonic territory. It can't have been easy for Bergman to enter and radically rewire a long-standing trio, nor for Takeishi to assume a new role, but Vu's bold move has paid handsome dividends.

Faithful melodic interpretations of "Body and Soul," "All the Things You Are" and "My Funny Valentine" strike an impressive balance between harmonic form and improvisation, and Vu's playing is imbued with emotion. "Leaps of Faith" with its nod to John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" hits the accelerator, whereas Vu's "Child-like (For Vina)" smolders like a psychedelic "Voodoo Chile" before veering into storming quartet improvisation, driven by Ted Poor's blistering drumming.

An intimate, powerful reading of George Harrison's "Something" seduces like a slow blues, and again suggests Frisell's influence. The final 25 minutes, of Vu's revamped "I Shall Never Come Back" and Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell" match head-spinning intensity with inherent musicality and attest to the potent chemistry at the core of this unique quartet.



Origin Records


Former students of the jazz program at Washington University, Seattle, electric bassist Luke Bergman, drummer Christopher Icasiano, keyboardist Aaron Otheim and saxophonist Andrew Swanson have clearly benefitted from the guiding hand of their professor, Cuong Vu, who guests on this fine debut recording, where the playing is as impressive as it is kaleidoscopic in range. All five musicians were brought up on rock and these leanings inform the music to a large degree, though collective improvisation lies at the heart of the group voice.

A random shuffle through the six tracks would raise more questions than answers; at times Speak sounds like a modern jazz piano trio in the vein of Neil Cowley's trio, or a progressive rock band with howling brass, an alternative rock band, Death Metal, or a Noise experimental outfit. The closer listening that the music merits reveals collective song-writing of maturity and some imagination. There's also virtuosity aplenty to enjoy.

Speak is in complete control of its environment, yet is prepared to take risks. Constantly engaging, Speak is a powerful advertisement for what is possible when egos are suspended, and at the same time, serves as a rallying cry for rock and improvised music. Expect to hear a lot more of this band.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: En Se Ne; Too Well; Acid Kiss; Old Heap; Felicia; Use 2; Gently Shifting.

Personnel: Andrew D'Angelo: alto sax, bass clarinet; Cuong Vu: trumpet; Luke Bergman: electric bass; Evan Woodle: drums.

Leaps of Faith

Tracks: Body and Soul; All the Things You Are; My Funny Valentine; Leaps of Faith; Child-Like (For Vina); Something; I Shall Never Come Back; My Opening Farewell.

Personnel: Ted Poor: drums; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Luke Bergman: electric bass; Cuong Vu: trumpet.


Tracks: Amalgam in the Middle; People or Cats; Polypockets; Mustard Knuckles; Pure Hatred; Litany Spirit.

Personnel: Luke Bergman: bass; Chris Icasiano: drums; Aaron Otheim: keyboards; Andrew Swanson: saxophone; Coung Vu: trumpet.


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Van Morrison: Roll With The Punches & Versatile Multiple Reviews Van Morrison: Roll With The Punches & Versatile
by Doug Collette
Published: December 17, 2017
Read The Possibilities of Percussion: Yarn/Wire & ensemble, et. al Multiple Reviews The Possibilities of Percussion: Yarn/Wire & ensemble,...
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: December 12, 2017
Read Holiday Roundup 2017 Multiple Reviews Holiday Roundup 2017
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 11, 2017
Read Old, Borrowed and Just a Little Blue Multiple Reviews Old, Borrowed and Just a Little Blue
by Geno Thackara
Published: December 11, 2017
Read Another Timbre Celebrates Its First Decade Multiple Reviews Another Timbre Celebrates Its First Decade
by John Eyles
Published: December 9, 2017
Read Ivo Perelman Makes It Rain Multiple Reviews Ivo Perelman Makes It Rain
by Mark Corroto
Published: November 12, 2017
Read "The Pianist as Director: Ryuichi Sakamoto and August Rosenbaum" Multiple Reviews The Pianist as Director: Ryuichi Sakamoto and August...
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: October 13, 2017
Read "Ivo Perelman Makes It Rain" Multiple Reviews Ivo Perelman Makes It Rain
by Mark Corroto
Published: November 12, 2017
Read "Duke Ellington on Storyville Records" Multiple Reviews Duke Ellington on Storyville Records
by Chris Mosey
Published: March 20, 2017
Read "Margrete Grarup: Denmark's jazz secret is out" Multiple Reviews Margrete Grarup: Denmark's jazz secret is out
by Chris Mosey
Published: May 28, 2017
Read "Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa Dos Ventos" Multiple Reviews Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 17, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!