Vietnamese trumpeter Cuong Vu has been a frequent Pat Metheny collaborator dating back to the guitarist's Speaking Of Now
(Warner Bros., 2002). It has taken well over a decade for Vu to flip the table, putting Metheny in a role he is seldom seen in, that of a sideman. In fact, across almost fifty albums, the guitarist's non-leader entries could be counted on one hand. It speaks volumes about Metheny's regard for Vu and the results on Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny
stand apart from their past collaborations.
Vu's regular trio of bassist Stomu Takeishi
and drummer Ted Poor
prove to be a perfectly simpatico unit with the addition of Metheny; Poor being an unassuming but propelling force and Takeishi with his wide-ranging adaptability. The opening "Acid Kiss," subsequent "Not Crazy (Just Giddy Upping)" and the closer "Tune Blues" see Metheny as aggressively free as anything he's played since Song X
(Nonesuch, 1985) or his very experimental Zero Tolerance for Silence
(Geffen, 1994). Vu matches the guitarist's fire and complexity in every way, growling and emoting through complex passages, sometimes competing directly with Metheny, other times finding a distinctive path. The build up to a rock anthem-like crescendo on "Telescope" is an emotional and powerful highlight of the album. More subdued are the pensive, but slightly off-kilter "Tiny Little Pieces" and the elegiac "Let's Get Back"; beautiful pieces that highlight Vu's trumpet skills in a clearer setting.
Some of Vu's earlier work, such as That The Days Go By And Never Come Again
(RareNoiseRecords, 2014) with pianist Richard Karpen, have been near exhausting from a listening point of view. The busyness and abstractions, the sheer intensity of the playing becoming overwhelming at times. Like constantly moving targets, there was a tendency to obscure Vu's multilevel creative process and the fluidity of his playing. With the original compositions on Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny
we have a more balanced level of density and the diversity of lyrical, rock and more reflective jazz styles. Though in large part, still challenging, it is accessible and riveting and gives a rare look at Metheny in an unusual role.