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Cuong Vu: Vu-Tet

Dan McClenaghan By

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One could wonder why in the world these people are wiring up their trumpets, instruments that, acoustically, make such beautiful sounds. Ingrid Jensen plugs in her horn, notably (and beautifully) on The "Pretty Road" from Maria Schneider's Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007) and Natsuki Tamura on Hada Hada (Libra Records, 2003) sucks up enough electrons to keep Las Vegas lit up for a year. To take things a step further, John Swana, on Cycles (Vector Disc, 2006) eschews the brass altogether and goes with an electric valve instrument.

All this new wiring must be reminiscent of what was going on with the early electric guitars sixty years or so ago—and look how far things have gone in the six string arena from, say, Muddy Waters to Pat Metheny.

Which brings us to trumpeter Cuong Vu and Vu-Tet.

Vu's It's Mostly Residual (ArtistShare, 2006) met with a bunch of critical success, though—full disclosure—this listener didn't get it and dismissed it in short order. It sounded unnecessarily weird and uncentered. With Vu-Tet Vu has honed his message to a razor sharp edge, and come up with a cohesive set in which each tune can stand nicely on its own (though this evolution may have more to do with the education of the listener's ears than it does with Vu's artistry).

The disc opens with "Intro," sounding like static wind in a neon cathedral, a glowing ambient wash of sound that leads into "Accelerated Thoughts," a tune of stuttering rhythms, thick sludgy bass lines(Stomu Takeishi) and power house drumming (Ted Poor). Vu blows manically and reedist Chris Speed rants in on tenor saxophone.

"Solitary Confinement" slows the pace, starting out in an inward mood that gradually builds. The electronic aspect of the horns makes it difficult to tell who or what's blowing—clarinet, alto flute, or wired trumpet? Not that it matters any more than it mattered with much of Miles Davis' early seventies electric work.

The approach on "Just a Memory" is sedated, lyrical and gentle; a pretty pop song that eventually cranks up into an intense wail fest for Vu and saxophonist Speed. "Never, Ever, Ever" sounds boppish in the beginning, then the fire builds, with Vu and Speed blowing blistering diatribes.

Vu-Tet—an innovative, modernistic, compelling recording, from start to finish—answers the "Why plug in a trumpet?" question convincingly. Outstanding!

Track Listing: Intro, Accelerated Thoughts; Solitary Confinement; Just a Memory; Never, Ever, Ever; Now I Know (for Vina); I Promise.

Personnel: Cuong Vu: trumpet; Stomu Takeishi: bass; Ted Poor: drums; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet.

Title: Vu-Tet | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ArtistShare

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