Billy Bang: Untitled Gift
8th Harmonic Breakdown
This essential set reactivates two historic sessions led by vibrant violinist Billy Bang. Like the legacies of too many innovators of the last 25 years, Bang's sweetness, bravado, and blues traveling the outlands languishes in small label vaults, like those of Anima. Despite the assertions of superficial jazz histories, the '80s had more going on than a neo-con coup and the ugly wanking death of fusion. Then as always musicians burning with vision created music ahead of the curve on labels too small to negotiate mass distribution.
Unbelievably well recorded in the north lobby of New York University's Loeb Student Center, "Sweet Space" features a dream band with Frank Lowe and Human Arts Ensemble alto player Luther Thomas packing the frontline. Frequent Hans Bennink collaborator Curtis Clark keeps the harmonies daring on piano, and Cecil Taylor/Roscoe Mitchell/Anthony Braxton veteran Steve McCall and Wilber Morris round out the rhythm section.
Morris opens with a searching acapella solo on "A Pebble is a Small Rock," soon joined by a colorful arrangement informed by Coltrane. Bang welcomes the crowd with a musically dexterous excursion followed by Lowe's blast furnace tenor.
The title track lumbers along like a sputtering toy. Lowe kills with a solo thick with multiphonic phrasings. McCall snaps through his kit to open "Lowski for Frank." As the title implies Bang wrote the piece with off-kilter intentions, in a Monkish sense without being the least Monkish in form. When the rhythm section straightens out for the solo, Lowe takes his time and shows the full-bodied swinging traditionalist that would color his later work. Morris, Thomas, and Clark push eachother beyond the edge in a smart trio before reviving the arrangement on a cue, Bang sailing overhead. The band's introduced during Morris' upbeat "Music for the Love of It," Sweet Space, indeed.
Three years later, Bang would go into Bill Laswell's OAO studio with a very different group to record Untitled Gift. Wilber Morris returns, but this time Dennis Charles illuminates the drum chair and Billy shares the front line with Don Cherry. As always, Charles spins a strong web of invisible rhythms as Morris drops chewy subharmonic power. Cherry bristles with brilliance in a quartet apparently electrified by their interplay.
His affinity with Bang opens "Echovamp 1678" as they double a reading of the theme. Morris keeps the riff alive, with Charles playing time in the cymbals and melody on skins. Cherry enters lazily, open and romantic, and slurred notes appear to turn corners. Bang catches the rhythm train and peels death defying runs with Cherry splashing background color. Cherry's obligatory inclusion of Coleman material includes a breezy reading of "Night Sequence" with violin and trumpet spiraling entwined, Charles playing the rain and Morris the pivot point. Coleman's "Focus on Sanity" has the rhythm section locked in with Cherry and Bang dancing the perimeters.
Morris' spare, portentous bass hosts Cherry's "Kora Song," with Bang offering pretty pizzicato support as Cherry goes mute. Charles maintains a easy swing, and Bang's bow captures the arid exotic spirit of the tune. Charles kicks "Maat" into gear with machine gun runs. Bang's fingers fly the fretboard, and Cherry blows dust devils into being. The quartet launches an exhilarating group improvisation on "Levitation for Santana."
This must-hear reissue offers a valuable curtain call for Lowe, Cherry, Morris, and Charles, while restoring valuable pages to Bang's impressive discography.
Tracks: CD1: A Pebble Is A Small Rock (Dedicated to Mr. & Mrs. Irving Stone); Sweet Space; Loweski For Frank (T.F.R.); Music For The Love Of It. CD2: Echovamp; Night Sequence; The Kora Song; Maat; Levitation for Santana; Focus on Sanity.
Personnel: Billy Bang Sextet featuring Frank Lowe - Sweet Space : Billy Bang, violin; Frank Lowe, tenor sax; Luther Thomas, alto sax; Butch Morris, cornet; Curtis Clark, piano; Wilber Morris, bass; Steve McCall, drums. Billy Bang - Untitled Gift : Don Cherry, pocket trumpet, flute , bells; Wilber Morris, bass; Dennis Charles, drums; Billy Bang, violin, yokobue flute, conga, bells.