Edward W Batchelder

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It’s Mostly Residual
Cuong Vu
(ArtistShare)

album cover of It's Mostly Residual

Since much of what passes across a music reviewer’s desk is the sonic equivalent of hyenas gnawing on the bones of long-dead jazz styles, the arrival of something new that’s both original and great gives twice the reason to celebrate.

Of course, Cuong Vu, a Saigon-born, Seattle-raised trumpeter, isn’t necessarily that new to many people: a member of the downtown NYC scene since the mid-1990s, he’s sat in with musicians as diverse as Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, and Dave Douglas, and had a high-profile gig touring with Pat Metheny. Vu shares the guitarist’s predilection for elegant, chiming melodies, and certain passages of the CD will also recall the electric Miles and parts of Weather Report. At the same time, Vu has such an original melodic sense that these references only suggest a general context without in any way delimiting his uniqueness as a musician.

This, his fifth CD as a leader, features Bill Frisell sitting in along with Vu’s usual compatriot Stomu Takeishi on electric bass and Ted Poor on drums. Vu is capable of some intense, headlong improvisation, as is clear on the aptly titled “Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse” and “Brittle, Like Twigs,” but his real strength is the extended, gorgeous lines that he unspools on the other cuts. The title track, in particular, offers a melody that seems to take measure upon measure to reach its culmination—it’s stately, elegiac, and yet not in the least mournful; one could only describe it as the sound of someone looking back on a glorious love affair that has ended without bitterness. This is all a way of saying that Vu’s playing has an emotional resonance that’s rarely found these days without having to sift through layers of hokum. You can add to this Frisell’s brilliant contribution—at times his casual, distortion-laden washes sound like Hendrix in slow motion, and at other times he plays with an inspired ferocity seldom displayed on his own records—and you have a CD to chase away the feeling that there is nothing new for the holiday season.

© Edward W Batchelder
(from Signal to Noise: The Journal of Improvised & Experimental Music)


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