Agogic – the name of the band and the title of their first recording – is the brainchild of former Pat Metheny Group trumpeter Cuong Vu, and multi-reed player Andrew D'Angelo. Agogic is, in some ways, a musical homecoming celebration for Seattle natives Vu and D'Angelo (whose work with Matt Wilson, Human Feel and Kurt Rosenwinkel is nothing short of remarkable) following extended stays in Boston and New York City. Agogic's other two members – bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Evan Woodle – are products of Seattle's own very fertile jazz and experimental music scene. With this young and extremely capable rhythm section in tow, Vu and D'Angelo are free to explore all sorts of stylistic variations and intersections, unfettered by big city music politics and the ensuing creative burnout.
The key to Agogic's appeal is the coexistence of D'Angelo and Vu in the same band. It's not so much about their playing – they're obviously great at what they do. It's that the two horn players possess compositional approaches that seem to me to be diametrically opposed. Like his most famous former employer, Vu favors relatively simple structures with brief and catchy-yet-haunting melodies. He sets these kernels in a swirling ever-changing soup of electronics and tumultuous bass and drums. The success of Vu's pieces is highly dependent on the group dynamic, as the music swells and recedes seemingly at will while soloists appear and disappear at will. Thus, the tiniest nuances become as crucial to the overall development of the piece as a shift in dynamics or tempo. It's a really effective way to make music, and Agogic has the listening and playing chops to make it work. Both of Vu's pieces here – 'Acid Kiss' and 'Gently Shifting Next' – are gripping musical adventures that will keep an attentive listener on the edge of his (or her) seat.
D'Angelo's composing style, by contrast, has strong roots in the avant-jazz world of the late 20th Century, though he's got strong rock and blues sensibilities as well. 'En Se Ne' combines an oddly syncopated melody with a lurching, funky rhythm. I love the sound of D'Angelo's bass clarinet on this piece – he's one of the few US-based multi-reed players out there who is doing something new and interesting with this wonderful and underutilized instrument. The first section of 'Too Well' marries an Ornette-like melody to stop-on-a-dime dynamic and rhythmic shifts before opening out into a funky jam. 'Use 2' is structurally similar, albeit with a more 'in your face' rhythmic slant. The soloing here, and throughout the disc, is passionate, heated, and just plain wonderful to listen to – I love how Vu's improvisations veer from speedy Hubbard-inspired hard-bop-isms to squalling blasts of Bill Dixon-esque white noise. D'Angelo throws a bit of a curveball with 'Felicia,' a darkly beautiful, somewhat amorphous ballad that contains a lot of open space. It sits quite nicely next to Vu's soundscapes, and drummer Evan Woodle's 'Old Heap,' which also seems to draw something from Vu's approach.
There's a lot to like on "Agogic." D'Angelo's and Vu's contrasting compositional worlds, their distinctive and virtuosic improvisational abilities, and the youthful, somewhat understated rhythm section work of bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Evan Woodle combine to create seemingly endless musical possibilities.