Burn Unit creates compelling musical atmospheres, however, some of the sound effects are borderline gimmicky. Vu blows air through the trumpet, which in connected to an effects pedal, and admittedly, it's a cool sound, at least the first time you hear it..... I was enjoying the music, and I like the contemporary edge and the freedom, and the band was surely very tight, and sound like they had played together a lot. (The drummer had all the music memorized.) I like the ambient stuff, but I was missing the "meat and potatoes", like a strong melody, or a really compelling solo, or some kind of infectious groove.
Vu and Sinibaldi played a nice contrapuntal duo, which was hard to tell if it was composed of improvised, but it was effective. There was also a nice drum and piano duet, in which keyboardist Otheim used a very free approach, contrasting some of the complex arpeggio patterns he played on the non-improvised portions.)A piece called "Chau" began with what could have been a riff in an 80's pop tune, but then rhythmically flipped in and out and upside down, expertly held in check by drummer Icasiano, who played some stuff that might be described as Dave Garabaldi(drummer of Tower of Power)on Acid.
Cuong Vu is clearly a thoughtful, skilled musician, and has the pedigree and credentials to prove it. His trumpet playing is unique; not terribly impressive on a technical level, but if you dig what Vu is going for musically, it doesn't matter. As a frustrated trumpet player myself, I can appreciate a musical trumpet player much more than guys who play a million meaningless notes, or try to win the Maynard Ferguson contest at every opportunity. Vu has a focused tone and good intonation and articulation. He tends to stick to low and middle register playing, but occasionally ventures upward, which actually makes it more effective. I thought it was interesting that the bandleader, Vu, didn't actually take a solo until 25 minutes into the set. Again, I'm guessing that this is an artistic calculation, in the tradition of Miles Davis, who left the stage and featured his sideman quite a lot.
I left the Mission Theater reasonably satisfied, but still not as convinced as I'd hoped to be. Like I said, I choose to let the jury stay out. Vu puts on a good show, and I think he has something to say. Check him out for yourself at his website. And don't forget to come out on November 16th for Miguel Zenon and December 13th for my group, featuring Todd Strait, Eric Gruber, Kerry Politzer, and Dan Balmer.