On the heels of his acclaimed 2016 recording, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch Records), and his 2014 collaboration with electro-acoustic pianist-composer and Director of the School of Music at the University of Washington Richard Karpen on Ellington-Strayhorn tribute That The Days Go By And Never Come Again (RareNoiseRecords), trumpeter-composer Cuong Vu joins forces with guest guitarist Bill Frisell on Ballet, a tribute to renowned composer-arranger Michael Gibbs.
With regular Vu 4Tet bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Ted Poor, the four exchange ideas in the moment in a collective fashion on the expansive opening track, "Ballet," which gradually morphs into a kind of quirky, dissonant blues waltz featuring brilliant solos from Vu and Frisell. The ethereal ballad "Feelings and Things" showcases Frisell's more sensitive and spacious side while Vu turns in a remarkably lyrical solo here. "Blue Comedy," a tune recorded by the Gary Burton Quartet (with Larry Coryell, Steve Swallow and Bob Moses) on 1968's In Concert, kicks off with a drum salvo from Poor before Frisell and Vu join together on some tight unisons through the intricate head. As the piece progresses, it picks up a kind of shuffle-swing momentum which Frisell solos over with his signature fractured phrasing and surprising detours. Vu and Poor engage in some spirited exchanges near the end of this jaunty number. The most dramatic piece on the album, "And on the Third Day," which originally appeared on Gibbs' 1970 self-titled debut album, evolves gradually from a peaceful opening drone to a turbulent crescendo featuring powerful. soaring solos from both Vu and Frisell, the latter power chording with impunity and kicking on his fuzz box and backwards pedal for maximum effect.
"This recording came about as Bill's wish to bring Mike Gibbs out to the University of Washington to do some of his arrangements of Bill's music for orchestra," says Vu. "Mike is indeed an iconic hero to Bill and it all came about from Bill's desire to bring him to the UW. I asked the boss, Director of the School of Music, Richard Karpen, and he gave us the green light because he wanted to honor Bill. We did two nights with the first night being the orchestra night and the second being the big band night (both student ensembles). The quartet of Bill, Ted Poor, Luke Bergman and myself was a featured part of those (both the orchestra and the big band) performances. In addition to that, the quartet (sans orchestra/big band), played Mike's music as the second set each night. This recording is from the second night."
Regarding this exhilarating Vu 4Tet project, Vu says, "This was a very collective/equal opportunity effort, so we just played and dealt with the cards collectively as they were dealt. I think it just comes down to the collection of players and our individual aesthetics coming together and trying to find a common goal/language." They succeed in triumphant fashion on Ballet, the second collaboration between Cuong Vu and Bill Frisell (their first was Vu's 2005 ArtistShare album Mostly Residual).
2. Feelings And Things
3. Blue Comedy
4. And On The Third Day
5. Sweet Rain