Cuong Vu: Vu-tet (2007)
It's a funny sensation of displacement, the "Vu effect." One moment, you're embraced by a warm and almost New Age-y sense of wholeness. This is the case of leader Cuong Vu's airy, ethereal trumpet playing on "Intro" or "Now I Know." In the same vein, bassist Stomu Takeishi borrows liberally from Jaco Pastorious' trick bag (e.g. "Continuum"): sunny and serene harmonics on "Just a Memory," elastic statements of melody on "Solitary Confinement."
The next moment, however, Takeishi and drummer Ted Poor abruptly pound you out of your reverie with the claustrophobic propulsion of a speed-metal band. Where am I?, you are likely to ask yourself.
In between the sunshine and the speed metal, there are plenty of surprisingly straight-ahead jazz moments on this quirky disc recorded in Mexico City. The Vu-tet's slightly uptight, classically-informed lines are reminiscent of the best of the '60s New Thing, and there is genuinely good writing throughout.
Vu's trumpet playing is part Freddie Hubbard (soulful and soaring precision) and part French bad boy Médéric Collignon (screaming intensity). The thing is, Vu sounds like the latter on the recent Camisetas (Chief Inspector, 2007) project with Jim Black, where Collignon is literally screaming; Vu, meanwhile, seems to be screaming through the mouthpiece.
Saxophonist Chris Speed's tenure with the similarly loud-but-also-mellow Alasnoaxis has prepared him well for the Janus-faced nature of Vu-tet music: fierce and querulous on "Accelerated Thoughts," lyrical without being cloying on "I Promise."
The Vu-tet conceit doesn't always coalesce. Like Speed's saxophone playing, the group's music seems superbly executed but without a center. Nevertheless, moments like "Accelerated Thoughts" and "Never, Ever, Ever," which artfully mash up the pile-driving rhythm section and the ethereal sustain of the horns, are as exciting and satisfying as any music being made right now.
Track Listing: Intro; Accelerated Thoughts; Solitary Confinement; Just A Memory; Never, Ever, Ever; Now I Know (for Vina); I Promise.
Personnel: Cuong Vu: trumpet; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Stomu Takeishi: fretless electric bass; Ted Poor: drums.