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Billy Bang: Sweet Space / Untitled Gift

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Violinist Billy Bang has reissued two of his earlier albums on CD for the first time—Sweet Space, a live album from 1979, and Untitled Gift, a 1982 studio set. Both discs have lineups including luminaries like Frank Lowe and Don Cherry. The free structure and embrace of atonality give this music its kick.

Billy Bang Sextet
Sweet Space
8th Harmonic Breakdown
2005 (1979)

The tune that opens Sweet Space, "A Pebble is a Small Rock, has a structure reminiscent of "India or "Africa, starting with the plucked bass intro by Wilber Morris. Drummer Steve McCall and pianist Curtis Clark add their voices, then Bang, Luther Thomas and Frank Lowe fall in to state the frenetic, spiraling theme on violin, alto sax and tenor sax. The title tune, classical in its conception and execution, is a playful landscape that sounds like insects buzzing. Wilber's younger brother Butch Morris adds his cornet to the mix and he joins Bang for a quaint pas de deux until the other horns state the carnival-like theme.

McCall takes the lead on "Loweski for Frank (T.F.R) with a strong drum solo. "Music For the Love Of It moves on a four-note holding pattern repeated by the band as Bang introduces the members to the audience. The alternate takes on Sweet Space consist of a second set with the same songs, played in a slightly different style and pace.

Billy Bang Quartet
Untitled Gift
8th Harmonic Breakdown
2005 (1982)

Untitled Gift features Bang leading a quartet featuring the late Don Cherry on trumpet and flute. "Echovamp opens with a typically atonal overture by Bang and Cherry, then drummer Denis Charles and bassist Morris engage in a spirited African-tongued dialogue. On "Night Sequence Bang spirals around Morris' brisk plucking, then Cherry and Bang chase each other around the melody like rabbits.

Bang plays some nimble pizzicato as well as straight-ahead arco on "The Kora Song. Cherry mutes his trumpet on this tune, which might lead some listeners to wonder how Miles would've fared in the free jazz milieu. Charles' rhythmically challenging statement opens "Maat before it moves into an up-tempo blues. "Levitation for Santana is a definitive free-form throwdown and "Focus On Sanity is a page torn gleefully from Ornette's songbook.

Now that the audience has (almost) caught up to the artists, the reissue of these inventive recordings will enhance Bang's stature as one of the most vital and original voices on the scene today.


Tracks and Personnel

Sweet Space

Tracks: A Pebble is a Small Rock; Sweet Space; Loweski For Frank (T.F.R.); Music For The Love Of It.

Personnel: Billy Bang: violin; Frank Lowe: tenor saxophone; Luther Thomas: alto saxophone; Butch Morris: cornet; Curtis Clark: piano; Wilber Morris: bass; Steve McCall: drums.

Untitled Gift: Echovamp; Night Sequence; The Kora Song; Maat; Levitation for Santana; Focus on Sanity.

Personnel: Don Cherry: pocket trumpet, flute, bells; Wilber Morris: bass; Dennis Charles: drums; Billy Bang: violin, yokobue flute, conga, bells.

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