A good chunk of the jazz-consuming public first became aware of Cuong Vu
's virtuoso trumpet playing via his work with the Pat Metheny
Group during the 2000s. For those of us already familiar with Vu's work, the move seemed a bit out-of-character, as the young trumpeter was a prominent player in the hyper-adventurous downtown NYC scene that coalesced around the Knitting Factory. To some, Metheny was a part of the jazz establishment; the very thing that the Knitting Factory scene was rebelling against. The results have proved otherwise. No one "sold out" or lost their edge. Vu's instantly recognizable trumpet playing simply got heard by thousands and thousands more people than would have otherwise. And while most still don't know who Bill Dixon
is, perhaps there are a few handfuls more who do thanks to Vu's Dixon-inspired yelps, note-bursts, and white noise washes.
After leaving Metheny's group, Vu went on to Seattle, where he's established a celebrated academic career, first as an associate professor and Chair of Jazz Studies at the University of Washington, and subsequently as the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Fellow. He's also fueled the growth of the fertile Seattle jazz scene, not only as a mentor, but as an active participant in musically uncompromising local groups such as Speak with local stalwarts Luke Bergman
, Christopher Icasiano
, and Aaron Otheim
, and Burn List
with Icasiano, Otheim and high school buddy Greg Sinibaldi
. Aside from the two Grammy award-winning albums and vastly increased visibility for a decidedly edgy, avant-garde-leaning instrumentalist, the Metheny-Vu collaboration has continued to bear fruit. The latest manifestation of their partnership, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny
finds everyone's favorite jazz guitarist playing on Vu's home court. The results are very, very impressive. Like Metheny and Vu, the Vu Trio's bassist Stomu Takeishi
and drummer Ted Poor
(also a faculty member at U of W) are the sorts of musicians whose awareness of 20th Century jazz is tempered by a 21st Century mindset; that jazz is forever becoming
Metheny's clearly in beast mode throughout, sallying forth with some of the most phantasmagorical and aggressive playing he's committed to CD in a while. Even the lovely, elegiac ballad "Let's Get Back" benefits from Metheny's psychedelic layered guitar textures. All of the tracks here were penned by Vu, except for Metheny's "Telescope" and Andrew D'Angelo
's set closing "Tune Blues." The latter has a free-bop edge and gets a taut, sinewy reading while the former benefits greatly from the characteristic pairing of Takeishi's rumbling bass with Poor's punch-and-roll drumming. The fractured, subterranean funk of "Acid Kiss" sounds like something that Vu might have written for Burn List. Metheny's insane, effects-laden solo takes it squarely into the realm of Miles Davis
' Dark Magus
(CBS, 1977). "Not Crazy (Just Giddy Upping)" is a super-quick Ornette Coleman
-inspired line that's right in Metheny's wheelhouse.
Much of the music here comes across as a sort of "free jazz." Sure, there are changes and melodies and some truly pretty passages as well. For the latter, there's "Seeds of Doubt" which openly references Metheny's own Bright Size Life
(ECM Records, 1976). But the freewheeling interaction between the four individuals and the choices they make in the moment
really carry the day here. The album's longest track, "Tiny Little Pieces" presents a sort of microcosm of the album's entirety; the first half of the piece has the quartet languidly moving from a spooky trumpet-guitar melody (backed by malleted toms and subterranean bass guitar drones) to someplace darker but no less atmospheric. Vu and Takeishi step out first. Metheny holds back for another minute or so, adding a layer or two of distorted grit as he revisits the melody before launching his solo. Poor comes in right on the money as Metheny's electric rockets skyward; a comet of sound. There's freedom, but there's also a sort of control. The sort of control that invites listeners to lean forward and immerse themselves in the sheer abandon of it all.