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Cuong Vu 4Tet: Change in the Air (RareNoise)

Review of album that teams the trumpeter with Bill Frisell, Luke Bergman, and Ted Poor

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Cover of Cuong Vu 4Tet album Change in the Air
Cover of Cuong Vu 4Tet album Change in the Air

The bracing RareNoise debut from trumpeter Cuong Vu’s 4Tet—2017’s Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs—played up a blended dynamism leavened by respect for its honoree. This followup, built around original contributions from within the ranks, has more to do with self-sufficiency fostering the oneness of four.

By inviting the project’s musical stakeholders to essentially act as equal partners on all fronts, Vu proves both virtuous and wise. With his mutable horn, guitarist Bill Frisell’s distinctive design elements, bassist Luke Bergman’s supportive weight, and drummer Ted Poor’s percussive pull framed together in different lights and dimensions, the creative possibilities appear to be endless.

This music draws on collective chemistry right from the start, as Poor’s “All That’s Left of Me Is You” shows itself to be a prime example of unification in reverie. It sings like a balladic standard and flows like a daydream. What immediately follows—Poor’s dynamic and suspenseful “Alive,” Frisell’s call to quiet curiosity on “Look, Listen,” and Bergman’s swaying-turned-soaring “Must Concentrate”—speaks to inclusivity without dulling the impact of any individual’s work.

Vu’s enigmatic writing greatly colors the second half of this album, as two cryptic concoctions built on angular engagement bookend a punchy and strident “March of the Owl and the Bat.” But it’s Frisell’s pen that signs off, calling out to memories lost in time on “Long Ago” and “Far from Here.” Both pieces speak to the spare elegance of his hand, the telepathic connection he shares with Vu, and the comfort with which he works atop and around this outfit’s lower end. Unsettled and unsettling though some of this material may be, it’s grounded by a sense of community in body and sound.


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Originally Published