Label/Year: RareNoise Records, 2017
Lineup – Cuong Vu: trumpet; Bill Frisell: guitar; Luke Bergman: bass; Ted Poor: drums.
Cuong Vu, an innovative avant-garde trumpeter who was born in Vietnam and has a knack for crossing musical boundaries in the company of mighty guitarists, provides you with plentiful of thrills on Ballet: The Music Of Michael Gibbs, a gritty new experiment that came out on RareNoise Records.
Last year, Vu and his regular trio - Stomu Takeishi on bass and Ted Poor on drums - invited the eclectic jazz guitarist Pat Metheny to participate in their alternative soundscapes, drawing positive reactions worldwide.
Now, Vu resolved to explore five pieces by Michael Gibbs, a master conductor, arranger, and composer, whose work usually blends rock elements with orchestral jazz.
Shaping Gibbs’ compositions with a strong personal charisma, Vu gathered his 4-tet composes of Luke Bergman on electric bass, longtime associate Ted Poor on drums, and the amazing Bill Frisell on guitar, who returns after the memorable It’s Almost Residual (EMI Music, 2005).
The title track romps out of the gate with meticulous abandon, holding firmly to an initial rubato that lightly pushes us into a waltzing hybridity of folk, blues, rock, and jazz. The band keeps the focus in and out through Frisell’s inventive and often atonal voicings and playful melodic lines, which work in conjunction with Vu’s elliptical, and quite breathtaking melodies. Almost unexpectedly, the tune acquires a swinging flow and an indelible bluesy feel, even if occasionally squeezing its nose on other fervid sonorities.
Folk and blues are combined once again on “Blue Comedy”, whose stable rhythm is permanently fed by Poor’s rock cadences and Bergman’s walking bass. If Frisell brings bluesy elements into his improvisational stratagem, Vu benefits with the rhythmic disruptions and subsequent change of pace. He starts slowly, accompanied by guitar and bass, but increases the sweeps when Poor re-enters with an irregular marching pulse based on snare drums.
Definitely more static but no less bracing, the sublime “Feelings and Things” floats freely and passionately. While Bergman’s subdued bass joins the comprehensive drum chops crafted by Poor, Vu chooses the best notes to garnish Frisell’s balmy harmonic narratives.
Also marked by serene tones, “Sweet Rain” invades the gray skies of a spring-blooming rainy day with the warming colors of a rainbow. The guitarist populates spacious pop/rock ambiances with constructive voicings, sharp harmonics and trills, and clever effect-drenched melodies. Totally into this mood, the trumpeter places silky melodies atop.
Probably the most engrossing track is “And On the Third Day”, a trance-like meditation turned into a noise-rock excursion. It opens with a relaxing exotic flavor penned by a nuanced bass pedal and irresistible percussion, and closes strongly electrified, fascinating along the way.
With Frisell aboard, the sound of the 4-Tet is broadly expanded, regardless where the band decides to go. Absolutely addictive and remarkably infectious, Ballet is a tour de force album that you won't regret to treat yourself with.
01 – Ballet ► 04 – And On the Third Day ► 05 – Sweet Rain