Recommended: Cuong Vu 4tet – “Ballet”


It’s an interesting change from the last time Cuong Vu and Bill Frisell worked an album together.  2005’s It’s Mostly Residual saw the duo trading in imagery, two painters side-by-side with one canvas between them and with one eye on their counterpart’s work while the other eye was lost in their own separate world.  Their newest is a conversation.  The back-and-forth banter of Ballet exists is a state of perpetual causation, and the accumulation of ideas bounced between the two becomes seriously enchanting.  They’re never apart on this session.  The motion of their dialog takes different forms and sets off on different directions from track to track, but the two sound perpetually at the hip.

Ballet is a tribute to the music of composer, arranger and trombonist Michael Gibbs.  Of particular interest is that the last few years has seen Frisell work with Gibbs on a number of projects, including an excellent 2015 release with the NDR Big Band.  Frisell’s music was the focus then, and now the guitarist returns the love with some special work-ups of Gibbs pieces.  Based on Vu’s fascinating perspectives on the music, it mustn’t have needed a hard sell to get Vu and his trio (with bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Ted Poor) to sign on.

Trumpter Cuong Vu has an almost casual way of delivering up a focused intensity, as if he’s slowly exhaling a melody into the heart of a tornado.  And seeing how Frisell possesses the talent of absorbing gale forces of sonic chaos to channel them into the structure of a melody, it’s one reason why these two snap right into place.  The effects are often stunning.  And on this live performance recorded at Meany Hall, on the University of Washington campus, a track such “And On The Third Day” is the proof, and reward, of those results.

But this album is about the dialog between artists, and how it manifests in different sonic environments.  The quartet slows things down on “Feelings and Things,” but that doesn’t alter the strength of the expressions or the crispness of the interactions.  The playful groove and fun little bounce of “Blue Comedy” goes to extremes on title-track “Ballet,” but the quartet’s amicable chatter keeps steady, just as it does when the intensity gets drawn back in on “Sweet Rain.”  And all of it resonates like crazy.

Ultimately, that balance between conversation and imagery, focused intensity and personable demeanor rates this a must-have recording.

Your album personnel:  Cuong Vu (trumpet), Bill Frisell (guitar), Luke Bergman (bass) and Ted Poor (drums).

Released on RareNoise Records.

Music from Seattle, WA.

Available at:  Amazon

And be sure to check out the prior Cuong Vu – Bill Frisell recording, 2005’s It’s Mostly Residual

(Go check it out!)