On April 10, 2011, the music world lost one of the foremost innovators of the violin, Billy Bang. In addition to boldly pushing the instrument's boundaries, he is one of the rare jazz players who left an indelible mark on it. The Finnish TUM label posthumously released Bang's swan song, recorded a mere two months before his untimely death from lung cancer.
Da Bang! is a sublime album of rich harmonies, multifaceted emotions, and tight, intellectually stimulating spontaneity. The lone original, "Daydreams," is also its centerpiece, opening with pianist Andrew Bemkey's wistful and nocturnesque sonata that shimmers in muted colors. Bang's eloquent and longing strings unfold with intense expressiveness and nostalgic flair. Bassist Hilliard Greene's deeply lyrical and pensive reverberations enhance the edgy and subtle melancholy. Out of this somber atmosphere, Bang's exhilarating, free flowing violin emerges with an energetic virtuosity that imbues its delightful atonality with exuberance tinged with a touch of sorrow.
Saxophonist Sonny Rollins' classic "St Thomas" closes the CD on a festive note, Bang's playful violin leading the band in a series of bright and effervescent sonic pirouettes. Trombonist Dick Griffin's ardent and rough hewn sound adds a sun-drenched warmth to the piece while Greene handles the bass with the facility of a large guitar as he pours forth remarkably intricate and tuneful pizzicato tones. Drummer Newman Taylor Baker's marching and swinging beats conclude the cut with extroverted acrobatics full of joie de vivre.
Bang's melodic and African-tinged muscular violin opens trumpeter Don Cherry's "Guinea." As he builds raw and haunting poetry with his slapping and bowing, elements of 20th century western classical music enter his intricate solo. He leads the group in a hypnotic and lilting refrain that expands on the intriguing musical ideas that form the tune's core. Griffin's bluesy growl adds an earthiness to the melody, while Taylor- Baker's visceral polyrhythms bring a primal timelessness to it.
The track contrasts nicely with altoist Ornette Coleman penned "Law Years." This darker and more elegiac composition features Bemkey's intelligent and heady pianism, which flows mystically over the bass-and-drum duo's raggedy and organic beats. Bang's own improvisation is perhaps the most intriguingly aspect of the record. His passionate pyrotechniques are tempered by a contemplative solemnity, combining maturity and an intrepid spirit.
This landmark release comes with liner notes full of informative and though-provoking essays by the likes of poet Amiri Baraka and writer Quincy Troupe, as well as session photos and musician profiles. The blues-inspired abstract cover art fits the music perfectly, and the disc itself is both a memorial for Bang and a reminder that his creative legacy is very much alive.
Da Bang; Guinea; Daydreams; Law Years; All Blues; St Thomas.
Billy Bang: violin; Dick Griffin: trombone; Andrew Bemkey: piano;
Hilliard Greene: bass;
Newman Taylor-Baker: drums.
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