Cuong Vu Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Cuong Vu Trio 

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CUONG VU TRIO

In the last few years plenty of jazz musicians have pushed their improvisations into the realm of electronic dance music: pianist Craig Taborn has played in the Innerzone Orchestra with Detroit techno whiz Carl Craig, for instance, and drummer Jim Black can sound like a sentient drum 'n' bass program. Vietnamese-born trumpeter Cuong Vu has explored similar hybrids in Chris Speed's Yeah No quartet, but with last year's Pure (Knitting Factory)--a dense, demanding, beautifully oblique trio set with electric bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer John Hollenbeck, who will also accompany him here--he introduced an idiosyncratic language of his own. The music is performed in real time, not assembled digitally; aside from effects like delay, reverb, and distortion, which sometimes augment the bass and trumpet lines, the album doesn't employ any electronics at all. But its rigorous, metrically fluid rhythmic schemes are heavily indebted to dance-floor science, and the more coloristic passages drift and flow like ambient music. Hollenbeck's thudding, tightly knotted grooves give the songs a low center of gravity--it's rare for jazz to register so powerfully in the gut--but he makes constant subtle shifts in his patterns, interacting in dizzyingly complex ways with Takeishi, who alters his own labyrinthine lines with jarring note substitutions and delay-pedal layering. On "Vina, All Grown Up," for example, the bassist locks a deep, sliding two-note figure into a hypnotic loop, then tramples all over it with kinetic tangles of plucked high-end harmonics. Throughout the album's six episodic tunes, Vu frequently embraces an approach to the trumpet similar to Miles Davis's early-70s style; he splatters sound like Jackson Pollock splashed paint and piles notes up together to explore textural possibilities, playing fat-toned wails one moment and sour, splintered cries the next. He can be straightforwardly lyrical--on "Pitter-Patter" he traces fleet melodic shapes over a hard, shuffling funk pattern--but he's also a master of atmospherics, turning the epic "I Shall Never Come Back" into an emotional kaleidoscope. Tuesday, May 15, 7 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Valerie Truccmia.

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