CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Cuong Vu 4tet Change In The Air

Cuong Vu 4tet Change In The Air
(RareNoiseRecords RNR091. CD Review by Jon Turney)

Here’s intriguing small group jazz worthy of a starry ensemble. The same foursome – Cuong Vu on trumpet, regular partners Ted Poor on drums and Luke Bergman on bass, and more occasional collaborator Bill Frisell on guitar – released a much-lauded session last year devoted to reimagining compositions by Mike Gibbs. For this second outing they worked with originals, some from each player.

The results are uniformly excellent. Their compositional styles yield an appealing variety. Poor has a good stab at the “standards you never heard yet” feel, notably on the Ellingtonian opener All That’s Left of Me is You, titled for an unwritten lyric. Frisell’s pieces are studies in delicacy and depth. Vu leans more to abstraction. His playful Round and Round, reminiscent of Paul Motian’s simple-yet-insidious tunes, is played twice, bracketing the frenetic March of the Owl and the Bat. The latter benefits from some howling fuzz guitar – as on some previous meetings Vu stimulates more of Frisell’s more extrovert, effects-laden playing than you tend to get on his own recordings these days. Conversely, the guitarist can draw out Vu’s lyrical side, often with a slightly burred edge to the trumpet tone, like a catch in the throat, that is unfailingly affecting. But Frisell also matches him when he turns up the wick and emphasises his electric-era Miles sound (both sides of Vu’s playing here also calling to mind Frisell’s earlier trumpet foil, Ron Miles).

Poor provides brilliant commentary on drums, with Motian-like brushwork on some tracks, leaning more toward Joey Baron’s snap on others, and Bergman is solid in support. It’s an egalitarian, interactive quartet. But the deep sympathy between Vu and Frisell, in splendid unison or improvising freely together, is what binds these disparate materials together.

It sounds like a collaboration that was waiting to happen. If you haven’t heard the Mike Gibbs set on the same label, I would still recommend checking it out first – it has a little more staying power. If you have, you’ll need little persuading to try this new offering.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney 

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