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Cuong Vu: Come Play With Me

On trumpeter Cuong Vu’s third CD as a leader, he takes the spaciness and the simmering rather than raw energy of Miles Davis’ fusion-era bands, which featured six or more musicians, and translates its spirit into a trio while retaining the music’s wide-screen effects. But Vu doesn’t just go for the hard-edged style that people normally associate with Davis’ electric period; Vu evokes “He Loved Him Madly” more often than Jack Johnson.

Electric bassist Stomu Takeishi and percussionist John Hollenbeck give the music a broad foundation, with the former alternating grand whole notes and funky eighths as the latter scatters across his drums like a soloist who can also keep a groove. Vu processes his legato, melody-rich playing through electronics, and the effect is both soothing and anthemic, especially on the lead track, “Dreams, Come Play With Me.” The song begins by bubbling in moody electronic effects, drifting in darkness, until Vu’s trumpet drops in and announces a melody so gorgeous, so powerful it coalesces all the disjointed sounds into a grand whole. Variations of this pattern-tonal coloration preceding magnificent melodic motives-repeats itself throughout the stunning 14-minute-long song, making the tune both the album’s introduction and its centerpiece. “Vina’s Lullaby” is almost as gorgeous, shooting for a Cinemascoped aura. “Again and Again and Again” touches on heavy rock, drum ‘n’ bass and the dark energy of free jazz without getting lost in that forest. But Vu is at his best when his popcentric ear is turned toward melody, as the hook that anchors “Safekeepings” shows: it instantly recalls the chorus melody to the Elvis Presley-associated “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Vu’s music swims in wombadelica, as the low-key groover “Amniotic” makes clear; it’s a place that is drifty and hazy but ultimately safe and welcoming. Come Play With Me proves to be an album for the patient to get lost in again and again.

Originally Published