Cuong Vu 4Tet – Change in the Air [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR091 52:37 [9/28/18] ****:

Trumpeter Cuong Vu’s 52-minute and 10-track Change in the Air is the follow-up to his 2017 release, Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs. Once again, the Seattle-based Vu performs with guitarist Bill Frisell (until recently also a Seattleite), bassist Luke Bergman (who is a Washington State jazz educator) and drummer Ted Poor (who is also a Washington jazz instructor). Whereas Ballet focused on one composer, Change in the Air portrays a democratic display which showcases the quartet’s compositions: three by Frisell, three by Vu, one by Bergman and three by Poor. Vu explains, “It was a team effort. The only real leader thing I did was…more like secretarial work. My only intention was that we all bring in tunes to make it as collective as we could.” Change in the Air is available as a gatefold, double-sided, 12” vinyl LP; a high-quality digital download; and as a four-panel CD digipack. This review concerns the compact disc.

Vu says the album title has several meanings but states the overt interpretation refers to the shadowy tinge which pervades the nation and the world, “I’ve never felt so much anxiety about the future on so many levels—environmentally, politically and especially with the ‘leadership’ in our country—than I do now.” The album appropriately opens with Poor’s darkly noir-ish “All That’s Left of Me Is You.” There is a deliberate, sepia-toned attribute. Poor divulges, “I liked the idea of trying to write something that could pose as an old standard found in an archive somewhere.” Poor’s subtle brushwork suffuses the nearly four-minute “All That’s Left of Me Is You,” and is reminiscent of Poor’s hero, Paul Motian, who was a longtime Frisell musical partner. Vu’s trumpet is very poetic, providing a dream-like lyricism atop Poor’s percussive elements, while Frisell offers a beautiful and responsive guitar. Poor’s slowly-moving “Lately” also has a cinematic characteristic, like something drawn from a 1950s detective film with suspicious men with low-browed hats and hidden intents. There is a melancholy aspect which also hints at somber times during Frisell’s “Look, Listen,” which has a deep empathy where all four musicians communicate with clarity, camaraderie and closeness. Trumpet and guitar interact with delicacy while the rhythm section gradually builds and then ebbs.

Portrait Cuong Vu

Cuong Vu

One of the standouts is Poor’s nine-minute “Alive,” which has an echo-etched vibe accentuated by Vu’s rich trumpet and Frisell’s equally evocative guitar. There’s plenty of space during the lengthy arrangement and Frisell and Vu take advantage of that room to supply extended soloing and nuanced harmonics. Poor discloses that “Alive” was penned in 2012 for a live gig and he has performed it several times, with different bands, but this is the first time “Alive” has been recorded. Poor relates, “We needed a few tunes with intensity and tempo to balance the set and ‘Alive’ felt like the obvious choice.” The dynamics of “Alive” escalate during the second half when Frisell exhibits some electrifying and slightly abrasive guitar fire which is matched by Poor’s hard-hitting drums. Another memorable two-for-one highpoint is Vu’s angular “Round and Round,” which has an aptly circular momentum and his reprise, “Round and Round (Back Around),” which mirrors “Round and Round” but reveals somewhat dissimilar changes in rhythmic flourishes and guitar improvisation.

Change in the Air closes with two Frisell works. The auburn-dappled “Long Ago” has a mesmeric mannerism which suggests Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden’s 1997 collaboration Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories) and other heartland jazz projects. The seven-minute “Far from Here” is also striking. On initial listen it may seem like an apparently basic tune but in fact it’s replete with multifaceted features. “Far from Here” is a poignant and picturesque sound painting, as if composed to accompany an animated movie done in the style of Edward Hopper. If you somehow missed hearing Change in the Air seek this out. If it’s not on some critics and jazz fans top-ten lists, it certainly should be.

Cuong Vu – trumpet; Bill Frisell – guitar; Luke Bergman – bass, additional guitar (track 5); Ted Poor – drums, Fender Rhodes (track 5)

TrackList:
All That’s Left of Me Is You
Alive
Look. Listen
Must Concentrate
Lately
Round and Round
March of the Owl and the Bat
Round and Round (Back Around)
Long Ago
Far from Here

—Doug Simpson

Link to more information and track samples here:

Logo Cuong Vu

 

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