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That The Days Go By And Never Come Again

by Indigo Mist (Cuong Vu Trio w. Richard Karpen)

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about

Trumpeter-composer Cuong Vu has established himself as a distinctive voice on the new music/improvising scene for his adventurous work over the past 20 years with the likes of guitarist Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and Laurie Anderson as well as his four recordings as leader. Pianist Richard Karpen has earned accolades for his work in the classical field as well as for being a cutting edge sonic experimenter of the highest order. Joined by innovative bassist Luke Bergman (their faculty colleague at the University of Washington) and Vu’s longstanding bandmate, drummer Ted Poor, these two kindred spirits push the envelope in a myriad of provocative ways on That The Days Go By And Never Come Again. An extended suite that pays tribute to the indelible composing team of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in a most uncompromising fashion, their extraordinary RareNoise Records debut under the collective name of Indigo Mist is unlike any Ellingtonia you’ve ever heard.
Says Vu, “The whole record, to me, is a tone poem that is deeply affected by their music, even to the point where as we were at the apex of experimenting, Duke and Billy were always in the room with us and we had to come to terms with their presence. I feel that we've respectfully paid homage to them by taking our own connection to them and sprinkled that all over the record like a mist.”
The unlikely duo of New York-based improviser-bandleader Vu and Seattle academician Karpen crystallized when they met at the University of Washington. As Vu explains, “One of the things that I did when I became a new faculty here was to research my colleagues, mainly just to get to know about the various interests of the School of Music faculty and get a feel for how I would move about within that musical community. Once I started reading about Richard, I was immediately interested because his work was on the forefront of electro-acoustic music as well as being a composer from the Western Classical Art Music tradition. Much of classical music had such an impact on how I interfaced with music while I was doing my bachelors of music that I've always been interested in working with a serious composer at some point. Then when I heard his music I was completely blown away and knew that I had to work with him, if not to just make music together somehow, then to at least learn from him.”
Adds Karpen, “It is very unusual for a ‘classically’ trained composer like me, with my particular background and continued interest in experimental music and several decades of very deep involvement in the development of computer music both as a composer and as a programmer, to be head of such a School of Music. And it seems to me to be just as unusual for someone coming from a jazz background like Cuong, who is deeply involved in breaking through artificial boundaries through many kinds of experimentation, would be on the a faculty of such a school. The chance that both of us would be at the same place at the same time, and with one of us heading this school, seems to be one chance in millions! We are both people who know good luck when we see it. Our meeting is just great luck and we have taken full advantage of it!”

After getting to know each other, the idea of collaborating on a project soon emerged. “It became apparent that Richard was a fan of jazz and was into improvisation,” Vu recalls. “I had Ted Poor coming to the UW as a guest artist and decided to see how that would go if we played trio with Richard on piano. And from that beginning it's been an amazing confluence of musical approaches, traditions and concepts that work so well together. Outside of the musical areas that we overlap and that are perfectly congruent, the best parts of this musical mix are the disparate musical aesthetics, intent and varied points of reference and traditions that make for extremely challenging waters to navigate, but in such an exciting, educational and rewarding way.”
The four participants met and played together several times (including in live performance situations) before finally devising a plan for this uncompromising electro-acoustic outing. As Karpen explains, “The piece was developed over many months and the computer technologies, which are very complicated from a computer application point of view, took many hours of planning and programming. We knew early on, based on Cuong's initial idea, that we would be basing this work on the music of Ellington and to some extent a conceptual reference to the compositions of Charles Mingus. With regard to Mingus, it's not any particular piece but the way in which musical ideas drift in and out of focus, into and out of what you might call ‘musical realism’ and ‘musical surrealism.’ That's something one hears also in Beethoven and it's a way of creating music in time that has resonated with me since I was a very young composer in my teens.”
Adds Vu, “It was my idea to address the music of Ellington because I was deep in a re-examination of the jazz tradition phase which started in my first year of teaching at the University of Washington, crystalized by my teaching the jazz history course. Our approach to this project developed over time and the only thing that I really was sure of outside of this idea of addressing Ellington's music was that I wanted to tap into Richard's area of expertise with electro acoustic music and serious composition. I felt that Ted, Luke, and I were broad enough in our musical interests and thinking, even while firmly coming from the jazz tradition, to make this experiment in which we were ‘colliding’ with Richard's musical world work. And I felt that Richard's music was also a manifestation of an incredible breadth of interests, musically and beyond, that would enable him to move about freely and effectively within our collective (Ted's, Luke's and mine) world. I was sure that this mixture of chemical agents was going to produce something that I hadn't made or experienced before but was going to be super cool.”
The provocative tone poem kicks off with a torrent of drums from Ted Poor entitled “L’Heure Bleu.” While traversing the kit with power and precision, Poor’s drumming is sonically enhanced to give it the effect of rolling thunder, gently falling rain or a phalanx of drummers. Poor then switches to mallets for the evocative title track as Karpen and Vu make their entrance into the mysterious soundscape, beginning with Karpen’s sparsely plucked notes from inside the piano and continuing with Vu’s electronically treated trumpet and Luke Bergman’s sparse bass lines. The piece builds to a thunderous crescendo with Karpen’s throbbing bass notes and Cecil Tayloresque cascading in the high register of the piano. Poor’s potent free drumming fuels the track while Vu’s intuitive keening trumpet wails over the top of the fray. This urgent piece gradually morphs into a haunting treatment of Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” that has Vu remaining close to the melody as Karpen pushes the harmonic envelope with his probing piano work. It then flows organically into a thoughtful but uncompromising meditation on Strayhorn entitled “Billy.”

An element of swing enters the picture on “Duke,” which opens with Poor’s hip, syncopated playing on the kit in intimate conversation with Vu’s unaffected trumpet workd. Bergman and Karpen enter the conversation near the midway mark and extrapolation ensues until they build up to extreme layers of density and dissonance with Vu reaching into his bag of extended techniques on the trumpet to match the pitch of the turbulent proceedings. At their tumultuous peak, Vu and Bergman lay out and Karpen gradually settles into zen-like repose on the piano, setting up for a sublime reading of Ellington’s gorgeous “In a Sentimental Mood,” which is played beautifully by Vu and underscored with tastefully restraint by Karpen, Bergman and Poor. This gentle but brief bit of Ellingtonia then morphs into the more mysterioso excursion “Charles” (for Mingus), which in turn leads into a highly impressionistic take on Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”
Karpen’s furious, rolling bass notes and aggressive stabs at the keyboard next come into play on “The Electric Mist,” a frenzied improvisation which has the pianist going toe-to-toe in full-out Cecil Taylor mode with drummer Poor augmenting his urgent attack with some powerhouse playing of his own. The piece ends with an electronic barrage that is purely of the 21st century. The album concludes with a spacious, abstract rendition of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” that begins with the sounds of a gong (or singing bowl) and plucked piano strings penetrating the silence before Bergman and Vu enter with a walking-on-eggshells approach. The familiar theme of this final nod to Ellington is hinted at throughout the course of the piece but not truly revealed until near the end of its eight-minutes in the beautifully warm tones of Vu’s trumpet.
Regarding the nature of this complex and highly provocative music and how it all came to fruition at the recording session, Vu explains: “Due to the nature of writing for improvisers, even when I bring in a completed piece to my groups, they are always incomplete until we workshop them and the musicians inject their aesthetics and values into the music. So who composed what is usually not so defined at every level of creation. In this case, I would say that the overall compositional feel of the piece would reside with Richard and how he heard us interfacing with and addressing the live electronics sound design and computer programming. To me, the foundational architecture of the piece came out of how Richard structured each of the objectives of how we would interact with the electronics with the Ellington and Strayhorn pieces places as strategic landmarks. With this roadmap/structure, some of it loose and some more specific in timing and intent, we were free to improvise the rest of the music and affect the composition of the piece as much or as little as we considered appropriate.”
Says Karpen of the musical rapport he developed with Cuong Vu during the preparation and subsequent recording of this Indigo Mist project: “It's an amazing convergence. We have learned to have an enormous amount of trust in each other as players and composers. I'm much more a composer than a performer and I will go so far to say that after not performing in public (or with anyone else, even in private) for nearly 25 years, it was only after playing with Cuong that I decided to return to playing piano as part of an ensemble and to perform in public. During those 25 years I have composed many works for a wide variety of great performers, but did not
feel that I wanted to engage with them as a performer myself. But getting back to the piano after so many years and to play with a real master performing artist such as Cuong as well as with his colleagues has been quite a thrill!”
Vu adds that he found this Indigo Mist experience highly invigorating and eye-opening. “There are always musical elements at play where I'm always on my toes and have to be completely fearless and open minded in order to interface and interact with in ways that produce effective music“My mindset most of the time is that I don't really know what this is and exactly what I'm doing within these contexts, but I know that it works and it's good. But most importantly, that it's new and fresh to my ears and to how I play. I haven't felt like that since I first started to scratch the surface of free improvisation with Jamie Saft back when we were just figuring all of this stuff out together. It's definitely the most challenging music I've been engaged in for a long time. And while it's probably the most uncompromising music that I've put forth to the public, in that we are really researching and experimenting together and doing it to mainly satisfy our musical interests and curiosities, I'm at a place in my life right now where it's crucially important for me to make music that is completely honest and without any external pressures.”
While Cuong Vu has been hailed in the past for his adventurous use of effects on his six previous recordings as a leader (2000’s Bound and Pure, 2001’s Come Play With Me, 2005’s It’s Mostly Residual, 2007’s Vu-Tet and 2011’s Leaps of Faith), he delves into wholly new territory on this Indigo Mist release for RareNoise Records. “What we did in my previous records was to use basically guitar effects and loopers as orchestrational devices as well as sound altering devices to help get us into territory that was new to us. Here, it is a much deeper level, and that's why I enlisted an innovative and leading figure in electro/acoustic music in Richard. While I think that the way I was able to craft my sonic territories in the past and what that resulted in was deep and required quite a bit of skill and creativity, this whole world is a much more complex living organism that what we had been dealing with. This world has infinite possibilities that is just mind boggling. It's completely out of my area of expertise and this is where Richard's expertise was crucial for this project. Simply put, none of this would have been possible without him. It's a whole other discipline of innovation in itself, a science in itself. It’s a whole other lifetime of rigorous study and research. The only thing that I know is that the sounds that we were dealing with and how they came about and how we sound on the recording as I listen back is an aural area that I've not experienced before. And that's so exciting and what this project is all about.”
“We're trying to do something new and different while flipping the whole idea of playing ‘jazz’ upside down,” says Vu of this Indigo Mist project. “And by choosing this music as our primary subject matter or subject of inspiration, we are addressing jazz in a way that I feel is in reverence and trying to add our own perspective of the greatness what jazz really means to me along with the greatness of these two masters.”

credits

released June 16, 2014

Personnel:

Cuong Vu - trumpet
Richard Karpen - piano
Luke Bergman - bass
Ted Poor - drums

Live Electronics iPad Performers - Ivan Arteaga, Shih-Wei Lo, Douglas Niemela, Joshua Parmenter

Tracklisting:

1. L'Heure Bleue
2. Indigo Mist
3. A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing
4. Billy
5. Duke
6. In A Sentimental Mood
7. Charles
8. Lush Life
9. The Electric Mist
10. Mood Indigo

"In A Sentimental Mood" and "Mood Indigo" composed by Duke Ellington
"A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" and "Lush Life" composed by Billy Strayhorn

All other compositions by Karpen, Vu, Bergman, and Vu.
Published by Jack House Music, BMI 2014.

Produced by Karpen, Vu, Bergman

Live Electronics Sound Design and Computer Programming by Richard Karpen and Joshua Parmenter
Recorded by Michael McCrea at the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse
Mixed by Luke Bergman
Mastered by Chris Vita at Vita Mastering

Executive Producer for RareNoiseRecords: Giacomo Bruzzo
Artwork and Design by Petulia Mattioli

Special thanks to - DXArts - Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media, The University of Washington's Royalty Research Fund

© + ℗ RareNoiseRecords 2014

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Cuong Vu Seattle, Washington

Cuong Vu is widely recognized by jazz critics as a leader of a generation of innovative musicians. A truly unique musical voice, Cuong has lent his trumpet playing talents to a wide range of artists including Pat Metheny, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Dave Douglas, Myra Melford, Cibo Matto, and Mitchell Froom. ... more

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