Music

Cuong Vu: It's Mostly Residual

Cuong Vu is going to be a major voice in jazz, if he can stand to keep making it.


Cuong Vu

It's Mostly Residual

Label: ArtistShare
US Release Date: 2005-11-30
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Cuong Vu is a young trumpet player (and sometimes-vocalist) from Seattle. I first heard him on recordings by Pat Metheny Group; his stuttering whispering solos on last year's The Way Up were, for me, the emotional highlights of that great album. When he's on his own, Vu composes and plays a kind of music that is both jazz and not-jazz, post-rock without the pretention, metal without the cookie monster voice. Whatever it is, it's brilliant…but it's going to take me the whole review to explain what it sounds like. Because the problem is that Cuong Vu hates jazz. Of course, he also loves it. This ambiguity is how we get our best music. It's fair to say that this is pretty freakin' great.

The title song starts things off. It's a low-key plod with a rising chord progression, slow and steady like an instrumental rock song (the Spanish groups Migala and Manta Ray come to mind). This song is driven by the formidable rhythm section of Stomu Takeishi on electric bass – my favorite jazz bassist for his work with Henry Threadgill – and Ted Poor on drums. There is a melody here, and it's not so far removed from jazz, at least Metheny-style jazz. But this is broken up by the two featured soloists doing weird things: Vu produces whale sounds through his horn (a complicated thing that I think involves isolating the mouthpiece; I'm guessing here but we used to do this a lot in junior high band), and all-star guitarist Bill Frisell makes ambient quiet screaming noises to echo him. The two go back to playing the melody, but you can tell they're getting ready to bust out; when they do at the four-minute mark, with some loud flanged-out echoey metal riffs, it's a relief. But then we're back to calm, with more of a buildup that bursts out fully, in glory, three minutes later. Truly a heroic piece of writing and playing, and a lesson for those artists that substitute flash for true musical tension.

The next piece, "Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse," is more like regular old post-bop. It's anchored by a really fast and repetitive Vu-tongued riff that serves as a refrain, but Poor quickly picks up the pace and sets the stage for a shred-fest of epic proportions. Frisell starts hammering out power-blasts and high-pitched stingers that really belong more on a Funkadelic album than anything that one could file under "jazz". (Okay, fine, Miles was doing this in the early 1970s. But you know what I'm saying.) Everything starts to melt down into a big Sabbath-y stew, with Vu doing dive-bombing scream runs on his trumpet and layering them over and over with themselves, and then Frisell ups the ante, and then Vu tries to out-do him, and Takeishi and Poor are still hammering away, and it's all quite beautiful and angry and weird.

These two templates are so good that the other tracks pretty much follow them. This is the biggest complaint that I have about It's Mostly Residual -- other than the inventiveness and power of the actual solos themselves, these pieces don't really have any surprises for the listener. They either plod or they sprint, and they only build up in one of two ways. Don't get me wrong; I absolutely love the way they do this. But I think Vu is still too much in Metheny's shadow, compositionally, and maybe Sigur Ros and Tortoise too. I know this will change, though.

The other major problem I have is that too much of the exciting stuff is driven by Frisell's stunning guitar heroics. Sure, if you have that arrow in your quiver, you have to use it. But Vu defers to his elder far too often for my taste, allowing the electric fireworks to overtake his own. Step up, young one, and assume the throne!

Don't take these criticisms as any kind of sign that this album is weak or boring, because it's not. There are Ornette-isms in "Blur," and "Brittle, Like Twigs" sounds like Thelonious Monk and Television and Catalyst, and there are tons of moments where you are picking your jaw up off the pavement in wonder at what four humans can do. But as good as It's Mostly Residual is, Vu will top it ten times over in his career, if he keeps his heart and ears open, and if he can vary up his frameworks just a bit. But yeah, Cuong Vu is going to be a major voice in jazz, if he can stand to keep making it.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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