There's a bit of a role reversal going on with this one. Trumpeter Cuong Vua Pat Metheny
devotee from the time he first heard the guitarist's Travels
(ECM, 1983) as a teenagereventually came to join the Pat Metheny Group, enhancing the sound of the band on a pair of Grammy-winning albums: Speaking Of Now
(Warner Bros. 2002) and The Way Up
(Nonesuch, 2005). Now Metheny returns the favor, joining Vu's crew for this expansive outing.
The concept behind this album is a simple one: Bring Metheny into the orbit of Vu's longtime trio and see what transpires. But nothing is ever really so simple when you're talking about musicians of this caliber. Desolate soundscapes, madcap encounters, deceptively structured dwellings, and shape-shifting environments are all part of the norm for the Cuong Vu Trio on a regular day. When you add a guitar-wielding X factor to the equation, be it Metheny here or Bill Frisell
on It's Mostly Residual
(ArtistShare, 2005), the permutations within and beyond those categories are endless.
Those who've heard Vu's trio before will still notice its signature blend of space and density in this music. The group continues to deliver atmospheric passages, create slow cooker grooves, and visit savage lands teeming with musical wildlife, so nobody need worry that Vu, bassist Stomu Takeishi
, and drummer Ted Poor
have abandoned what they've worked so hard to build. They've just allowed the borders of their being to expand and adjust to account for the inclusion of one of jazz's most creative and original spirits.
Precision and abandon manage to work well together here. Vu and Metheny bookend "Not Crazy (Just Giddy Upping)" with incredibly intricate unison lines that meet and join perfectly with a sinister rhythmic underbelly, but they throw caution to the wind during their fascinatingly frenetic solos. It's a beautiful marriage of musical exactitude and punk attitude that knows few equals. It's also one of several instances where this assemblage uses the act of intensification as a primary tool for expression. "Tiny Little Pieces," which develops and devolves all at once, and "Telescope," an icy-turned-molten vehicle with some hip groove work from Poor, are two others. These musicians are more than capable of keeping themselves in checknote "Let's Get Back," with its leaden beat, hypnotic strains, and relatively understated bearingbut where's the fun in that? These four make for a great combination throughout, but they sound best when they're in their collective element, slowly triggering the rising tides of (r)evolution.