The Safety Net: Cuong Vu – “It’s Mostly Residual”

The Safety Net, a Bird is the Worm series which highlights outstanding older albums that may have flown under the radar when first released.



Seattle trumpet man Cuong Vu is probably best known for two fine qualities… his languorous trumpet blasts that rise like a phoenix out of the fire of dissonance, and his creation of dissonance utilizing a signature mix of distortion and electronics.  The way these qualities manifest through sound imbue tunes with an ethereal serenity and a chaotic buzz, both separate and as one.  Vu sounds like no one else on the scene.  It’s Mostly Residual is one of his earlier releases.

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

William Gibson’s masterpiece cyberpunk novel Neuromancer opens with the classic line, “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”  The fictional town this port lies in, Chiba City, is a futuristic mix of old architecture and new technology, of a place where ancient motivations and visionary possibilities meet to create a new reality.  The opening track to Vu’s It’s Mostly Residual lingers at that fictional port.  The air is heavy with the scent of the sea.  Seagulls born of microcircuitry soar overhead as Japanese wasen trawl the waters for discarded computer parts.  Vu’s soaring trumpet is the defacto seagulls, Frisell’s fuzzy guitar effects the scent of the sea, Takeishi’s bass the boats and computers bobbing against the choppy waves of Poor’s drums.  It’s an hypnotic song, even when it raises the heat to a level capable of breaking the hold of any spell cast over the listener.

The song’s shifting moods and cadence sets the tone for the rest of the album.

“Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse” starts at a ferocious tempo and refuses to relinquish it.  Poor sets the pace on drums; Nobody has trouble keeping up.  This is followed by “Patchwork,” which begins with a gentle sway, and has Vu and Frisell trading casual notes while Poor chatters anxiously just beside them.  Takeishi’s bass finds a middle ground between those two extremes.  But the pull of Poor’s frenetic orbit becomes too much for the quartet to resist, and the tune journeys off in a direction much different than from whence it began, returning to that gentle opening sound only at the very end.

It doesn’t remain there long.  “Brittle, Like Twigs” returns to a state of hyperactivity.  Vu fires off a series of trumpet lines that sometimes dematerialize into electronic frisson.  Frisell matches Vu’s heady pace, but moves in directions of a vertical nature, often crossing Vu’s horizontal path.  Poor takes the low road, Takeishi one in the upper registers.

“Chitter Chatter” returns to a pattern of distracted serenity blossoming into ambulatory combustion.  Poor’s drums mumble distractedly while Frisell lets loose a series of acerbic statements.  Vu puts a positive spin on the state of things with long slow uplifting notes.  Takeishi is in a poetic mood, but sticks to the background mostly.  The tune gradually builds into a chaotic monolith, both tempo and volume rising up to greater and greater heights… and, then, from that chaos, the quartet suddenly coalesces into a singular moving force, adopting a demeanor of something resembling a modern straight-ahead post-bop tune.  It’s an amazing transformation, especially in light of the fact that the quartet had already pulled off one costume change previously on this tune.

The album ends with “Blur.”  It is something of a return to the seaside languor of the opening track, though, in this instance, the scene never begins to storm.  It’s a simmering lullaby of a song, and a beautiful end to the album.

Released originally in May 2005, and currently offered on the Table & Chairs Music label.

Jazz from the Seattle scene.

Available as digital download (any format) on Vu’s Bandcamp page.

Available at eMusic (non-U.S. regions only).  Available at Amazon: CD


And just in case you haven’t read it yet, go buy William Gibson‘s fantastic novel Neuromancer

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