Too often, the Jazz press laments the lack of mentorship in Jazz, with too many musicians coming right out of the conservatory without continuing oversight from more seasoned musicians. While the youngish 40 year old Cuong Vu might seem an unlikely "Jazz Elder," various playing experiences with the likes of many cutting-edge New York City groups, as well as big names like Pat Metheny or Laurie Anderson, seem to have prepared him for this course. Originally hailing from the West Coast, Vu has returned to teach at the University of Washington and among his students are all of the members of the Speak ensemble. Drawing influences from multiple musical factions (Rock, Jazz, 20th Century Classical, etc.), saxo phonist Swanson, keyboardist Otheim, bassist Bergman and drum mer Icasiano offer a vibrant musical fusion, with brilliant trumpet work from special guest Vu on this debut.
With six tracks written by the members of the group, the music flows like a program steeped in Jazz but stretches toward signifi cant Rock paradigms. The opening cut, "Amalgam In The Middle" presents a pulsating rhythmic drive sparked by Otheim's oscillating lines with the busy horns pinpointing the melodies and shifting pas sages. From a different angle is the meditative "People Or Cats" that despite observing subdued sonorities, mainly filled in by Otheim's piano and synth colors, maintains its forward flow, though the excit able energy soon returns on the aggro beats, electronic pastiches, and distortions of the anxious "Polypockets."
The record's lengthiest piece, "Mustard Knuckles" commences as a dreamlike cadence, with Swanson's lovely tenor riding the waves before the heavy patterns emerge that ultimately shift back to an epic crescendo representing the strongest portion of the outing. Finally, the program closes with the snaky groove of "Pure Hatred" with its underlying sense of the sinister coaxed by the taut rhythmic team and Otheim's "Litany Split," a collective exercise that while being reflective, presents a foreboding beauty as the stark horn lines match Otheim's chiming chords.
With this debut, Speak offers an unexpected delight that falls in line with some of Vu's other projects as a leader or within the con text of past collaborations with reedist Chris Speed.