Cuong Vu – “Leaps of Faith”

 

Trumpeter Cuong Vu has established a sound quite unlike anyone else on the scene. With lighthouse moans soaring above a wash of dissonance and electronics, he’s created a post-bop ambient style of avant-garde. Or said differently, it’s the metaphorical equivalent of a straight-ahead jazz melody dropped onto a tiny desert island in a sea of chaotic noise. The end result is that it’s pretty damn hard to find a Cuong Vu album that isn’t compelling as hell.

That brings us to Leaps of Faith. Here’s your album personnel: Cuong Vu (trumpet), Ted Poor (drums), Stomu Takeishi (bass & electronics), and Luke Bergman (bass & electronics).

Vu opens with three covers of jazz standards. I had to poke around his discography a bit to see if this was something he typically did but never noticed because of his unique sound. Nope, his albums almost always feature his own original compositions. I’m thrilled he took a different course here. There may be no better way to illustrate Vu’s originality in approach than on a standard tune that everyone knows. For instance, how about the Jerome Kern tune “All the Things You Are”…

The familiar melody is there. It’s gotta be. A successful cover of a jazz standard requires that the melody get referenced throughout the track. It’s okay to break it down, shift it around, deconstruct it, and prod its heart to see what makes it tick… but please put it back into a shape that resembles the original, and reference the damn thing from time to time. Vu gets it, and it’s why it’s so easy to enjoy his versions of standards both as familiar songs but also on Vu’s terms as well. Just brilliant.  He also covers “Body & Soul” and “My Funny Valentine”.

When the standards end and the original compositions begin, the album begins showing Vu’s stripes with “Child-like”. Sweeping post-rock rhythms and grungy harmonics roil underneath Vu’s wailing, sometimes plaintive, sometimes ferocious, a song that begins with calm waters then builds into a monsoon, ending abruptly in the eye of the storm before the song comes to a sudden stop.

Vu lets that eye carry over into the next track “Something.”  Vu takes George Harrison’s song and turns it into a peaceful floating tune with Vu’s gentle lullaby on trumpet, the pitter patter of drums and squiggly electronic flourishes left in its wake.  It’s the kind of song that is so blissfully serene that I have to replay it immediately, even if it messes with the continuity of the album.

That ends, however, when the jet engines of “I Shall Never Come Back” start warming up.  But first, a little applause from the audience.

Yes, I said ‘audience’. This is the first time it’s revealed that this recording is from a live show. It’s a remarkable feat because, one, the sound is excellent, and two, the album is almost over before the audience sound hits the speakers.

But back to those jet engines. The build of noise is pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as the way that Vu tames the dissonance with strong trumpet calls that remind the chaos that it exists only on his own terms.

The album ends with the gentle “My Opening Farewell”, a tune with a dark atmosphere to drift away on.

It’s a stunning album, adding one more impressive notch to Vu’s already impressive discography.

Released on the Origin/OA2 label in 2011.  Jazz from the Seattle scene.

Stream the entire album on Vu’s Bandcamp page.  You can purchase it there, too, in most file formats.

A free album track is available on AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.

Available on Amazon: CD | MP3

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