Cuong Vu’s Vu-tet combines the adventure of jazz, galvanizing downtown rock, and a on-again-off-again lyricism. Vu—born in Vietnam in 1969, an American from the age of six, and a New Yorker since 1994—is closely associated with the last decade’s downtown scene of jazz players who fluidly combine free playing with thoughtful composition across stylistic boundaries. Here, there are wide swaths of beauty that entwine with the more challenging elements: complex rhythms, unconventional uses of trumpet tone, aggressive attack, and departures from conventional harmony. The mixture, however, is organic and well-practiced among Vu’s regular trio and clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, which never sounds like a classic “horns and rhythm” jazz group. Stomu Takeishi builds great sound sculptures from his electric bass, and drummer Ted Poor is both a busy funk drummer and a great colorist. Speed and Vu can play like a sharp and exact post-boppers (the syncopated head on “Never, Ever, Ever”), like contemplative balladeers (“Just a Memory”), and like volcanic out-expressionists (on the improvisations on “Accelerated Thoughts”). Spending time with Vu-tet is more exiting and pleasant than it is hard work. Cuong Vu, a member of the Pat Metheny Group when he is not downtown, has a knack for an attractive theme and a tumbling funk that keeps this adventurous music fully available. The Vu-tet may be the trumpeter’s most consistently fine record as a leader.
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