Cuong Vu 4-Tet – Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs

REVIEW: Cuong Vu 4-Tet - Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs

Cuong Vu 4-Tet – Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs (Rare Noise)

Trumpeter Cuong Vu found like-minded collaborators in two of today’s most influential jazz guitarists. On his 2016 project, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny, he matched Metheny’s signature fluidity with equally rapid licks that spill out in frantic counterpoint. In contrast, his release this April with the Cuong Vu 4-Tet, Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs, features Bill Frisell, a guitarist distinguished by his languid spareness in addition to his musicality. This radical switch prompts Vu to explore the more atmospheric and textural elements of his playing, and the spacious interplay that develops is as gripping as it is meditative.

Nonetheless, the album grooves heavily. Bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Ted Poor, both regular members of Vu’s group, anchor the frontmen with taste and empathy, brilliantly reading the dynamic trajectory of each track and only commenting when necessary.

Though Vu and Frisell each have assertive and recognizable personalities that take center stage, Gibbs’ music serves as an ideal platform and framing device. His idiosyncratic compositions benefit from the same transparency and relaxed confidence that define Frisell’s improvisational sensibilities. Elegantly straightforward, each of the five pieces launches the quartet into a wholly distinct sonic landscape while leaving them plenty of freedom to explore it.

The title track kicks off the record with an angular, loping blues feel that gradually solidifies from the fractured introduction, like broken ceramics being pieced back together. The group continues to lapse in and out of calculated disarray on “Blue Comedy,” in which Vu and Frisell playfully drape melodies atop one another to produce rich washes of sound. Then, on “And on the Third Day,” the guitarist jumps into literal and figurative overdrive on an ecstatic solo in which he channels the enthusiastic wailing for which he gained notoriety early in his career.

Progressive but palatable, Ballet showcases two renowned musicians pushing each other to the top of their game.

Asher Wolf

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