Trumpeter-composer Cuong Vu has established himself as a distinctive voice on the new music/improvising scene for his adventurous work over the past 20 years with the likes of guitarist Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and Laurie Anderson as well as his four recordings as leader.
Composer Richard Karpen has earned accolades for his work in the classical field as well as for being a cutting edge sonic experimenter of the highest order. Joined by innovative bassist Luke Bergman (their faculty colleague at the University of Washington) and Vu's longstanding bandmate, drummer Ted Poor, these two kindred spirits push the envelope in a myriad of provocative ways on That The Days Go By And Never Come Again. An extended suite that pays tribute to the indelible composing team of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in a most uncompromising fashion, their extraordinary RareNoiseRecords debut under the collective name of Indigo Mist is unlike any Ellingtonia you've ever heard."
Says Vu, "The whole record, to me, is a tone poem that is deeply affected by their music, even to the point where as we were at the apex of experimenting, Duke and Billy were always in the room with us and we had to come to terms with their presence. I feel that we've respectfully paid homage to them by taking our own connection to them and sprinkled that all over the record like a mist."
The unlikely duo of New York-based improviser-bandleader Vu and Seattle academician Karpen crystallized when they met at the University of Washington. As Vu explains, "One of the things that I did when I became a new faculty here was to research my colleagues, mainly just to get to know about the various interests of the School of Music faculty and get a feel for how I would move about within that musical community. Once I started reading about Richard, I was immediately interested because his work was on the forefront of electro-acoustic music as well as being a composer from the Western Classical Art Music tradition. Much of classical music had such an impact on how I interfaced with music while I was doing my bachelors of music that I've always been interested in working with a serious composer at some point. Then when I heard his music I was completely blown away and knew that I had to work with him, if not to just make music together somehow, then to at least learn from him."
Adds Karpen, "It is very unusual for a 'classically' trained composer like me, with my particular background and continued interest in experimental music and several decades of very deep involvement in the development of computer music both as a composer and as a programmer, to be head of such a School of Music. And it seems to me to be just as unusual for someone coming from a jazz background like Cuong, who is deeply involved in breaking through artificial boundaries through many kinds of experimentation, would be on the a faculty of such a school. The chance that both of us would be at the same place at the same time, and with one of us heading this school, seems to be one chance in millions!
The provocative tone poem kicks off with a torrent of drums from Ted Poor entitled "L'Heure bleue." While traversing the kit with power and precision, Poor's drumming is sonically enhanced to give it the effect of rolling thunder, gently falling rain or a phalanx of drummers.
Poor then switches to mallets for the evocative title track as Karpen and Vu make their entrance into the mysterious soundscape, beginning with Karpen's sparsely plucked notes from inside the piano and continuing with Vu's electronically treated trumpet and Luke Bergman's sparse bass lines. The piece builds to a thunderous crescendo with Karpen's throbbing bass notes and Cecil Tayloresque cascading in the high register of the piano. Poor's potent free drumming fuels the track while Vu's intuitive keening trumpet wails over the top of the fray. This urgent piece gradually morphs into a haunting treatment of Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" that has Vu remaining close to the melody as Karpen pushes the harmonic envelope with his probing piano work. It then flows organically into a thoughtful but uncompromising meditation on Strayhorn entitled "Billy."
An element of swing enters the picture on "Duke," which opens with Poor's hip, syncopated playing on the kit in intimate conversation with Vu's unaffected trumpet worked, Bergman and Karpen enter the conversation near the midway mark and extrapolation ensues until they build up to extreme layers of density and dissonance with Vu reaching into his bag of extended techniques on the trumpet to match the pitch of the turbulent proceedings. At their tumultuous peak, Vu and Bergman lay out and Karpen gradually settles into zen-like repose on the piano, setting up for a sublime reading of Ellington's gorgeous "In a Sentimental Mood," which is played beautifully by Vu and underscored with tastefully restraint by Karpen, Bergman and Poor. This gentle but brief bit of Ellingtonia then morphs into the more mysterioso excursion "Charles" (for Mingus), which in turn leads into a highly impressionistic take on Strayhorn's "Lush Life."
Karpen's furious, rolling bass notes and aggressive stabs at the keyboard next come into play on "The Electric Mist," a frenzied improvisation which has the pianist going toe-to-toe in full-out Cecil Taylor mode with drummer Poor augmenting his urgent attack with some powerhouse playing of his own. The piece ends with an electronic barrage that is purely of the 21st century. The album concludes with a spacious, abstract rendition of Ellington's "Mood Indigo" that begins with the sounds of a gong (or singing bowl) and plucked piano strings penetrating the silence before Bergman and Vu enter with a walking-on-eggshells approach. The familiar theme of this final nod to Ellington is hinted at throughout the course of the piece but not truly revealed until near the end of its eight-minutes in the beautifully warm tones of Vu's trumpet. It's definitely the most challenging music I've been engaged in our musical interests and curiosities, I'm at a place in my life right now where it's crucially important for me to make music that is completely honest and without any external pressures.
"We're trying to do something new and different while flipping the whole idea of playing 'jazz' upside down," says Vu of this Indigo Mist project. "And by choosing this music as our primary subject matter or subject of inspiration, we are addressing jazz in a way that I feel is in reverence and trying to add our own perspective of the greatness what jazz really means to me along with the greatness of these two masters."
Musicians: Cuong Vu (trumpet), Richard Karpen (piano), Luke Berman (bass), Ted Poor (
Tracks: L'Heure Bleue / Indigo Mist / A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing / Billy / Duke / In A Sentimental Mood / Charles / Lush Life / The Electric Mist / Mood Indigo.