Cuong Vu 4-Tet, featuring Bill Frisell – ‘Change In the Air’ (2018)

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For the third album in a row, Cuong Vu’s 4-Tet boasts guitar extraordinaire Bill Frisell as its fourth member, in a band full of extraordinary musicians and composers. That last point is key, because for this latest 4-Tet project Change In The Air, the trumpet player more than ever before is taking advantage of his band mates’ vast facility in both of those areas and made the quartet more democratic. It’s the same sort of capacious, thoughtful and lyrical sound as it’s always been but now it feels more of four major voices than ever before.

All four are capable composers, but drummer Ted Poor contributed a trio of tunes that are overall the strongest of them all. Change In The Air begins congenially, with his “All That’s Left Of Me Is You,” a pretty, classically-styled strain, and the band wisely puts its focus on carrying it out with grace. Poor and bassist Luke Bergman set down a Coltranian march for “Alive,” given a rough edge from Frisell’s fuzzy guitar. Cuong and Frisell state the thematic lines together like they are lyrics. When Friz steps back and allows Vu to take center stage, the trumpeter shows both Miles-like swagger and discretion. Frisell finds his inner rock star with some nasty, distorted asides as Poor powers his way to the end. And “Lately” is another pleasing ballad from Poor, made more so by Frisell’s shimmering notes.

The Frisell-penned “Look, Listen” vaguely suggest country, and Vu rides along with the slow going pace with unhurriedly held notes. Vu uses a clean, resonant tone for stating the main melody of Frisell’s “Far From Here,” in congruence with the guitarist as Poor lets his drums flow freely. Bergman’s “Must Concentrate” features him adding a rhythm guitar, as both him and Frisell adds more harmonic heft to the song, especially when they reach the climatic bridge.

The trumpeter’s relatively unstructured charts give the band the most room to stretch out. Vu’s jagged “Round and Round” blurs any separation between melody, harmony and rhythm as the four go down the crooked path together (an idea that’s reprised on “Round And Round (Back Around)”. The leader’s “March Of The Owl And The Bat” is angular as well but also very plucky, as Vu and Bergman unite on a stammering bass line. As the song gather momentum, Vu’s trumpet gets agitated and Frisell backs him with threatening, sampled and looped noises.

Change In The Air goes on sale September 28, 2018 through Rare Noise Records.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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