Cuong Vu / Chris Speed: From The Pacific Northwest To The Atlantic Northeast And Beyond
Myra Melford's Be Bread
Saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed and trumpeter Cuong Vu have a lot in common. Both hail from the Pacific Northwest and attended school in Boston. Over the years they've played in each other's groups, Vu as a member of Speed's yeah-NO and Speed in Vu's Vu-tet so it's not surprising to see them turning up on the same or similar sessions.
Vu and Speed were both members of pianist Myra Melford's band The Tent. On The Whole Tree Gone, performed by her Be Bread, she has retained Vu along with Ben Goldberg (clarinets), Brandon Ross (guitars), Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar) and drummer Matt Wilson. This is a band of leaders but all seem more than willing to explore and expand upon Melford's wonderful compositions. The intricate "Moon Bird" is a case in point with its unusual thematic contours, moments of near group stasis and design to give all of these musicians a chance to speak their piece. What's remarkable too is how well this group meshes. It's particularly interesting to hear Ross at length on this disc; frequently in ensembles the acoustic guitar gets lost in the mix but here his sound blends perfectly with the ensemble. Vu's soloing is excellent and he sounds inspired by the material (check out his solo on "Moon Bird"). The Whole Tree Gone is a substantial addition to both Melford and Vu's discographies.
In the past decade there has been a rising interchange of Danish and American musicians playing on each other's sessions. Several excellent Danish pianists have emerged from the scene and Jacob Anderskov is one of the finest. Agnostic Revelations, recorded last year in New York, finds him working with an American band of Speed, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Anderskov has fashioned seven compositions that are mostly quiet, initially unassuming, but that grow with repeated listening. Speed carefully pecks his way through the elongated melodies, expanding on them during his solos, never wasting his notes. Anderskov shadows his lines with well-placed chords, contrapuntal fills and countermelodies as Formanek and Cleaver keep an open, ever-changing rhythmic flow. The music does occasionally get heated, especially on "Pintxos For Varese," but for the most part this is meditative music, yet never lethargic.
Also from Denmark is saxophonist Jesper Løvdal, with the third release by his band Lovedale, Coziness Kills. The core of the group consists of the aforementioned Anderskov on piano, bassist Jonas Westergaard and drummer Anders Mogensen. Both Speed and Vu are guest musicians but on different tracks. This gives a bit of diversity to the disc, allowing some tunes to feature double saxophones and others to have a sax/trumpet frontline. Three tracks are played by the core quartet and, compositionally, these have the flavor of mid '60s Blue Note albums, which can still be a highly effective style in the hands of the right players. The music here has an infectious energy, Løvdal at his most inspired when going head to head with either Vu or Speed; on "Cheers In Heaven" he and the latter have a spiraling dialogue that's one of the disc's high points. Despite the shifting personnel from track to track, the album plays through as a cohesive whole.
Tracks and Personnel
The Whole Tree Gone
Tracks: Through The Same Gate; Moon Bird; Night; The Whole Tree Gone; A Generation Comes And Another Goes; I See A Horizon; On The Lip Of Insanity; Knocking From The Inside.
Personnel: Myra Melford: piano; Cuong Vu: trumpet; Ben Goldberg: clarinet, contra alto clarinet; Brandon Ross: guitar, soprano guitar; Stom Takeshi: acoustic bass guitar; Matt Wilson: drums.
Tracks: Warren Street Setup; Be Flat And Stay Flat; Pintxos For Varese; Blue In The Face; Diamonds Are For Unreal People; Solstice 2009; Neuf; Dream Arch.
Personnel: Jacob Anderskov: piano; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Michael Formanek: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.
Tracks: Abdullah I (for Abdullah Ibrahim); Cheers In Heaven; M/S Invention; Pudsig Pigtraad; Fra Flintholm Til Femoeren; Coziness Kills; The Missing Manual; Sucre Trouve.
Personnel: Jesper Loevdal: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jacob Anderskov: piano; Jonas Westergaard: bass; Anders Mogensen: drums; + Cuong Vu: trumpet; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet.