Lucid Culture


Cuong Vu’s New Agogic Album Mixes the Catchy and the Challenging

It would be an overstatement to say that trumpeter Cuong Vu’s new Agogic album, just out on upstart Seattle label Table and Chairs Music, is New York sound from Seattle – after all, there are scenes just as vital and cutting-edge as New York’s in plenty of major cities. Yet that’s the trajectory that Vu has followed, having returned recently to his hometown where he put together this excellent group with Andrew D’Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Luke Bergman on electric bass and Evan Woodle on drums. It’s “postmillenial jazz,” as Vu calls it, a mix of the accessible and the avant. Blending elements of funk, minimalism, warmly consonant melodicism and assaultive noise, it’s an individual sound and a very enjoyable album.

They start on the accessible tip, a funky bass clarinet hook (when’s the last time you heard one of those?!?) over a slow, thumping, trip-hop-ish beat. Clarinet and then trumpet switch off hitting on the beat, Vu adding shivery accents, mimicking a backward masked melody, then finally the rhythm falls apart as the cymbals take over. The second track begins blustery, goes funky with a circular hook, D’Angelo joining Vu in a boisterous, rhythmic double solo as the drums gallop and Vu signals an insistent crescendo. The next cut is a real gem, pensive sostenuto trumpet over a memorably wary, minimalist chromatic bass hook and gingerly leapfrogging tom-toms. The choruses pick up, first sax and then trumpet calm against the storm rumbling underneath. When they hit the second chorus, bass pounding out chords like Peter Hook on steroids as the band wails behind him, it’s pure bliss.

Track 4, Old Heap, by Woodle, is a tremendously successful example of suspenseful minimalism, anchored by an almost imperceptibly expanding, catchy chromatic bass hook with trumpet floating overhead. A still, spacious interlude with the occasional judicious drum accent kicks off a slow crescendo upward with screeching sax far in the distance against Vu’s warm sustained lines which pull it out of the mist. The fifth cut is the most accessible, prettiest one here, a ballad that works its way down into some neat bass chords and then slowly up from there, trumpet tune embellished gently by the sax as it morphs into a gentle march. The next track dances joyously on a tricky funk beat, like early Spyro Gyra (before they went all synthy) updated for the teens, featuring blazing and blustery alto and trumpet solos. They close on a powerful note that kicks off with distorted bass ambience, trumpet holding up the sky as a reverberating, ominous drone rumbles and crackles underneath. And when Vu pulls the volume up, it brings up the temperature on the swirling cauldron underneath as well, a refreshingly noisy, bracing way to close this lively and diverse album.

April 12, 2011 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I am playing bass clarinet on Old Heap, not saxophone.

    It is a collective endeavor not Cuong Vu’s AGOGIC.

    Thank you for the nice review.


    Comment by Andrew N D'Angelo | April 20, 2011 | Reply

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