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 their Ellington-Strayhorn tribute That The Days Go By And Never Come Again (RareNoise Records), trumpeter-composer Cuong Vu joins forces with guest guitarist Bill Frisell on Ballet, a tribute to renowned composer-arranger Michael Gibbs.
With regular Vu-Tet 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 skronking effect.