Billy Bang: Da Bang! (2013)

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Billy Bang: Da Bang!
The list of prominent jazz violinists is not a long one. Start with Stephane Grappelli
Stephane Grappelli
Stephane Grappelli
1908 - 1997
violin
and his legendary Hot Club de France swing recordings with gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
1910 - 1953
guitar
. Then there's Stuff Smith
Stuff Smith
Stuff Smith
1909 - 1967
violin
and his innovative electrolyzing of the instrument; Joe Venuti
Joe Venuti
Joe Venuti
1903 - 1978
violin
; the late Polish firebrand Zbigniew Seifert
Zbigniew Seifert
Zbigniew Seifert
1946 - 1979
violin
; and the still-active, post-bop/fusion player Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
b.1942
violin
.

It's a short list, but it's one that's not complete without the name Billy Bang
Billy Bang
Billy Bang
1947 - 2011
violin
, who passed away in 2011.

Billy Bang
Billy Bang
Billy Bang
1947 - 2011
violin
—born William Walker in Mobile, Alabama—began his career in New York City's Loft Scene of the early '70s after his conscripted service in Vietnam. Tagged as an avant-garde player, he rose to a higher profile with two recordings influenced by his war experiences: Vietnam: The Aftermath (Justin Time, 2001); and Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time, 2004).

Though the avant tag may be accurate, Bang's music—over thirty albums as a leader— has always been accessible, and is often quite beautiful in its exuberance while compelling in its rough-hewn folksiness.

Recorded in 2011, Da Bang! was the violinist's last recording before his passing in April of that year. It features the violinist in a quintet setting, sharing frontline duties with trombonist Dick Griffin
Dick Griffin
Dick Griffin
b.1939
trombone
and covering tunes penned by a trio of influential fellow free jazzers, along with one of his own extended works and—a bit of a surprise—a couple of very familiar jazz standards to close out the show.

The disc opens with the energetic title tune, written by Bang's collaborator in the FAB Trio, drummer Barry Altschul
Barry Altschul
Barry Altschul
b.1943
drums
. The violinist plays with his characteristic swagger and verve, bolstered by the boldness of Griffin's trombone. The rhythm team— pianist Andrew Bemkey
Andrew Bemkey
Andrew Bemkey
b.1974
piano
, bassist Hilliard Greene
Hilliard Greene
Hilliard Greene
b.1958
bass
and drummer Newman Taylor Baker—lock into a groove, allowing the frontline to ride high.

"Guinea," written by trumpeter Don Cherry
Don Cherry
Don Cherry
1936 - 1995
trumpet
—alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
's early musical running mate—opens with first a frenetic and searing, but then percussive Bang solo, before shifting into an ensemble of off-kilter swing, the rhythm section giving off bounce and sparkle. Coleman's "Law Years" opens with bassist Greene laying down the melody, leading into Griffin's rough-around-the-edges solo. Bemkey gets his turn too, and proves himself—again and again on this set—to be intense and inventive as a soloist and a perfect accompanist.

The fourteen-minute "Daydream," Bang's lone songwriting credit here, is a meditative gem, opening with a delicately beautiful piano turn before Bang's violin cries in. The leader's playing here is at its most heartfelt and intimate on this gorgeous centerpiece to one of Bang's finest recorded outings.

Bang isn't particularly known for his work with jazz standards, but he closes the set with trumpeter Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
' "All Blues," sounding wistful before shifting into a celebratory mood on saxophonist Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
' "St. Thomas." Both tunes are treated with reverence and both of them—and the entire set—brim with Bang's infectious joy of creation.

Track Listing: Da Bang; Guinea; Daydreams; Law Years; All Blues; St. Thomas.

Personnel: Billy Bang: violin; Dick Griffin: trombone; Andrew Bemkey: piano; Hilliard Greene: double bass; Newman Taylor-Baker: drums.

Record Label: TUM Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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