Following up on his 1997 Justin Time release, "Bang On," Billy Bang seems to keep fiddling below the radar screen of many jazz enthusiasts, despite his individual style and the unpredictable directions his improvisations, or even his stage mannerisms, may take. For Billy Bang is a violinist whose ideas truly seem to be spur-of-the-moment as inspiration radiates, sometimes with physical embellishments, from his instrument to his audiences.
On "Big Bang Theory," Bang's repertoire is familiar, seeing as how it includes gospel tinges, free flights of animated angularity, pizzicato-ed resonance as if inviting the listener to pay closer attention, piquant ballads, New Orleans street beat, and straight-ahead swing.
But his change of personnel makes a big difference. While D.D. Jackson, as expected, took charge of the sound of "Bang On" with the complicity of Ronnie Burrage and Akira Ando, the rhythm section of "Big Bang Theory" allows Bang to shine as the leader, laying down beats and holding back accompaniment, until it's time to step forth.
Individually, the rhythm section of "Big Bang Theory" extends its subtlety as a means for building solos. Moffett's incredibly seamless and soft roll on the tune "Big Band Theory" sounds almost like a ball bearing rolling around the head, increasing in volume and intensity over several choruses to a thrilling conclusion. Curtis Lundy, another Justin Time artist deserving of much wider recognition, establishes infectious and complex vamps, especially on "Silent Observation," which seems to have a 3/4 and 5/4 meter, instead of a broken 4/4. Pianist Pope, not as Pullen-esque as Jackson, instead refers to McCoy Tyner in some of his work, such as his whirling and soulful attack rooted by those famously accented bass notes on "At Play In The Fields Of The Lord."
As one of the leading improvisers on an under-appreciated jazz instrument and recording on a Canadian jazz label, Billy Bang once again reminds us of the violin's possibilities for enriching the collective voice of jazz.