August 12, 2000
Knitting Factory Works KFW-266
With PURE, Cuong Vu seems to have created the jazz version of a rock music power trio. Just imagine his trumpet as the guitar hero-style lead instrument on this session, meshed with Stomu Takeishi's very obviously electric bass and John Hollenbeck's inventive drumming. That done you can easily think of the three as a very sophisticated version of Rush, Triumph or Z.Z. Top.
More seriously, the reason this CD is so impressive is despite — or perhaps because of — their power, the trio members are versatile enough to adapt many different musical forms to their own ends.
Take the 17 and 1/2 minute "I Shall Never Come Back", for example. It gradually evolves from a spacey, electronics-tinged trumpet tone exploration to an out-and-out rocker, complete with auditorium shaking drumbeats and Brontosaurus tooth chomping bass rhythm. Additionally, nowhere do you get the sense that this is the limit of the trio's talents — as with some fusion bands — or that the faux-heaviness wasn't, in fact, unpremeditated, but instead several taped bits pieced together in the studio.
Part of this conception stems from the real time electronics used on the session. Not only does the bassist augment the electric capacities of his instrument with a looping device called a boomerang, but Vu also uses two delay units as well as a reverb unit on his trumpet. Interesting enough, one is called a delay guitar pedal, which clearly underlines the "rock" feel of some of these tracks.
A New York "downtowner" who has worked with artists as varied as pianist Myra Melford, reedist Chris Speed, plus pop stars David Bowie and Cibo Matto, the trumpeter certainly knows his post rock. But he's as interested in the questions that can be raised by experimenting with different sounds as the answers provided by more conventional music. "Vina, All Grown Up", for instance, is almost 12 minutes of resonating, lyrical single brass notes cunningly displayed on top of a pillow of bass guitar washes, while "Pitter-patter" has clenched throat tones facing off against Hollenbeck ingenious percussion asides.
Similarly, it's no surprise that PURE offers a display of more than standard timekeeping. After all, the drummer is someone as comfortable motivating Bob Brookmeyer's conventional New Art Orchestra, as he is collaborating with avant classicist Meredith Monk. On one tune here he can make his kit sound like a conga drum, then turn around and pull out what appears to be a collection of oddball percussion — including a steam whistle — to animate the aptly-named "Child-like". Then there's Takeishi's contribution. More than your average electric bassist — perhaps because of his use of electronics — he's one of the few able to unshackle the instrument from its pop history and extends its range as a flexible improvisational tool.
This CD proves that well-thought-out experimental music can be as forceful and riveting as any Heavy Metal manifesto. Plus it can be a lot more palatable to the ears — and the brainpan.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Faith 2. Vina, All Grown Up 3. Pitter-patter 4. Child-like 5. I Shall Never Come Back 6. Pure
Personnel: Cuong Vu (trumpet); Stomu Takeishi (electric bass); John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion)