Come Play With Me
Knitting Factory KFW 298

No one is likely to confuse trumpeter Cuong Vu with a neo-con young lion.

Although he’s young enough (28), educated enough (the New England Conservatory) and experienced enough (including a touring gig with the Pat Metheny Group), he doesn’t seem interested in the rote bebop recreations that characterize other young trumpeters. Working with the likes of Laurie Anderson and David Bowie as well as more jazz-oriented types, he’s evolved a distinctive, electronics-influenced style that with this band almost takes on the trappings of a rock power trio.

But that’s where his challenges now lies. Although this leisurely, atmospheric disc is easily the equal of PURE, his first with these two musicians, it also seems to be a continuation of it. Can Vu, in the future be inventive enough to create other different sounding projects?

Right now, he appears to be using reverb and delay to take the muted, electronic trumpet one melodic step beyond electric Miles, with each of these overlong pieces working essentially the same way. Having the technique to make his instrument wiggle out a lead guitar line, with muted wah wahs which reference rock rather than Bubber Miley’s plunger work, Vu will keep an ethereal theme floating along at certain points of the song. Mechanically he’s even able to echo his own solos.

At one point, the heads, which often resemble ambient music, explode into a stratospheric brass vivisection, replete with aviary peeps and reverberating whistles, before calming down again. During that section, drummer John Hollenbeck bears down on his drum kit and crashes his cymbals, while Stomu Takeishi thumps out a steady dinosaur rumble from his bass guitar. There are times when Vu’s interaction with Hollenbeck reminds you of the James Brown’s grunts meeting the beats of JB Clyde Stubblefield. Other times, though, it seems as if a lounge group playing “(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You” has been joined by a Black Metal combo midway through the tune.

Engineer and co-producer Laurent Brondel’s contribution to “Amniotic” on lap steel guitar doesn’t really alter the equation. Still, the racing car speed lead guitar lines or shimmering organ chords heard on this track are more readily ascribed to his axe than Takeishi’s.

Perhaps the nub of Vu’s task is illustrated on the appropriately titled “Again and Again and Again”, which, just as fittingly, is the final tune. Built around a constantly repeated four-note trumpet pattern, the brassman only occasionally breaks the chain by indulging in some kissing sounds from his mouthpiece or plunging deeper into the valves. Meanwhile the bassist rumbles along and the percussionist, except for a minute triangle-striking interlude, also sticks to a repetitious pattern.

If Vu continues to turn out comparable trio sessions like this one, he’ll come up against the law of diminishing returns. His originality, based on not producing a pastiche of what came before can turn to rote with an always-expected style. Can he follow other visionary musicians like — to name two trumpeters — Dave Douglas and Miles Davis and introduce different bands and different musical concepts, or will he get stuck in a rut?

As it stands now, you can only say yes when Vu asks the listener to COME PLAY WITH ME, but the future isn’t that clear.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Come Play With Me 2. Vinna’s Lullaby 3. Amniotic* 4. Safekeepings 5. Again and Again and Again

Personnel: Cuong Vu (trumpet); Laurent Brondel (lap steel guitar)*; Stomu Takeishi (electric bass); John Hollenbeck (drums)