Cuong Vu

Leaps of Faith

origin 82585



MUSIC REVIEW BY Nate Chinnen, New York Times

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The voracious sweep of postmillennial jazz has plenty of exemplars but few truer than the trumpeter Cuong Vu. Over the last decade he has upheld a dreamlike sound informed by post-bop but just as rooted in noise pop, grunge and ambient minimalism. He has an invaluable partner in the bassist Stomu Takeishi, who shares his fluency with electronics and his fondness for immersive lyricism. Together with the smart young drummer Ted Poor they have tended to an aquatic, darkly inviting, calmly exploratory style.

Each of their previous two albums featured a guest: the guitarist Bill Frisell, then the multi-reedist Chris Speed. "Leaps of Faith" has a fourth member too: Luke Bergman, who until recently was one of Mr. Vu's music students at the University of Washington. But Mr. Bergman, who plays electric bass and also mixed and helped produce the album, isn't an interloper here. His contribution changes the metabolism of the group ? freeing up Mr. Takeishi, for one thing ? without undermining its identity.

The album begins with three standards, which isn't common practice for Mr. Vu. They land transformed, more remixed than covered, with creeping momentum and shadowy detail. But Mr. Vu is largely true to their melodies, bringing a terse caress to "My Funny Valentine" and austere clarity to "Body and Soul." He gets teasingly atmospheric with the theme of "All the Things You Are," laying out its distinctive intervals over a glacial groove. (He does much the same on "Something" by George Harrison, and "My Opening Farewell" by Jackson Browne.)

There are aspects of Mr. Vu's tone that suggest the softer side of Miles Davis, or the moody poise of a Davis emulator like Mark Isham. But Mr. Vu has more subversive designs, which become clearer on the album's three originals, notably "Child-Like" and "I Shall Never Come Back," which develop like ominous weather systems, with sculptured distortion and drones. The title track, a collective improvisation, recasts John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" as hold music for a doom-metal help line.

"Leaps of Faith" was recorded live in Seattle last spring, but you could get pretty far into it before you register the presence of an audience. When you finally hear some applause, it sounds distant, filtered: yet another effect in an album reverberating with them.






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