Cuong Vu 4Tet - Change In The Air

Label: RareNoise, 2018

Personnel – Cuong Vu: trumpet; Bill Frisell: guitar; Luke Bergman: bass; Ted Poor: drums.


Cuong Vu nurtures the idea of group identity with another multifaceted quartet album featuring singular guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Luke Bergman, and drummer Ted Poor. Change In The Air is the followup to Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs and includes only original compositions brought by all the four members of the ensemble - Vu, Poor, and Frisell contribute three tunes each, and Bergman one.

Surprisingly, the album starts with a longing jazz ballad penned by the drummer, who employs brushes for a more delicate sound. But there are other balladic incursions like Frisell’s discreetly bluesy “Far From Here” and “Long Ago”, a slow folk number with a rustic touch that advances methodically with conspicuous snare drum activity. The guitarist’s writing style is unequivocal and his sound aesthetics is transported to this quartet.

Poor’s “Alive”, one of the record’s most exhilarating pieces, is a resolute epic that shifts and shines with Frisell’s full-bodied country-rock guitar emboldened by the dependable bass-drums flux, while the adventurous Vu unleashes spontaneous phrases in tones of blue, where every note is played with passion and grit.

Bergman’s sole composition “Must Concentrate”, offers engrossing chord changes over an initially static rhythm. However, the group doesn’t linger in that particular orientation for too long. They work dynamics with gusto, weave engaging textures (Bergman plays additional guitars), and the song easily gravitates toward the alternative pop/rock style, differing from the less impetuous temper that had been created with the previous waltzing tune: Frisell’s contemplative yet alert “Look, Listen”.

Round and Round” has the melodic instruments articulating polished phrases, whether in unison whether echoed in tandem. There are two versions of this examination, but Vu’s finest compositional effort is “March of the Bat and the Owl”, a jolt of swamp-funk and rock with staccato accents, distorted guitar, shifting tempos and sumptuous rhythms. Evidently, you’ll find the band following the routines of stretching and release with awe-inspiring virtuosity.

Cuong Vu and his reliable associates play melancholic melodies and embrace slow tempos with the same precision and creativity as when they improvise on the razor’s edge. This is a highly enjoyable disc; one that thrives through effective teamwork and forthright personal statements.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Alive ► 07 - March of the Bat and the Owl ► 10 – Far From Here

Cuong Vu 4tet - Ballet

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.

          Grade  A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Ballet ► 04 – And On the Third Day ► 05 – Sweet Rain