Tuesday, October 23, 2018

CD Review: Cuong Vu 4tet - Change In the Air

Cuong Vu 4tet
Change in the Air
(RareNoise) www.rarenoiserecords.com

While listening to Change in the Air through earbuds recently, the sound of Cuong Vu's trumpet took on an amazing quality. In the ballad "All That's Left of Me Is You," he sounded like Bobby Hackett, whose dreamy trumpet floated off in the distance on those classic Jackie Gleason albums on Capitol. Bathed in echo, Vu, like Hackett, conjured wistful thoughts that elevated the lyrics of romantic standards. Instead of a fleet of violins, "All That's Left..." had Bill Frisell doing similar things on the guitar, both accompanying and adding extra melody.

One song later, I realized that this sonic experience came about through carelessness. I wasn't hearing the full stereo recording because the earbuds weren't plugged in all the way. Once the jack was fully in place, there was Vu front and center. Not the same aural encounter, but still a great song.

For Change in the Air, Vu had everyone in the 4tet bring in original compositions. Drummer Ted Poor composed the first two tracks, each vastly different. "All That's Left of Me Is You" was written to sound like a ballad from the era in which Hackett was famous, and it contains some familiar harmonic turns. (This could be my ears, but the deep cut Neal Hefti ballad "Falling In Love All Over Again" comes to mind.) Rather than sounding derivative it creates a comfort level, aided a great deal by Frisell's warm sound and Vu's rich tone.

Poor also contributed "Alive" which feels like a waltz with a couple extra beats added every few measures. Bassist Luke Bergman holds it down with Frisell while the drummer and trumpet dig into the nuances of it. The loping feeling, and the way Poor plays off of that, add to the excitement which sets high expectations for what might come next.

Bergman's "Must Concentrate" begins with some folky guitar strumming and, following some bright tones from Vu, it gets heavier after Poor cues in some power chords. The trumpeter's "Round and Round" and its partner "Round and Round (Back Around)" feature Vu and Frisell locked into a deep rubato conversation that gets more dramatic as melodic phrases repeatedly come back around. Frisell's three pieces also have simple folk-like melodies which benefit from Vu's strong tone and the rhythm section's flexibility. The closing "Far From Here" is a gentle free ballad, combining a high lonesome (or "wistful," perhaps) quality with the open, free feel of Paul Motian, the latter due in large part to the guitar and drums.

Albums released under a leader's name typically build on one musician's vision, which is developed by a full band. When all the musicians in a band write for a session, the results can be diverse but a little too eclectic. Change in the Air lands at the ideal spot in between those poles. These 10 tracks offer a varied set that show each player's individuality and the compatibility within the group.

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