Even were one not viewing Da Bang! through the lens of this being violinist Billy Bang's last album, recorded just two short months before he succumbed to cancer in April 2011, there is still a detectable elegiac air which pervades even the brightest tracks. That's not the fault of the cast, although trombonist Dick Griffin comes across as a somewhat downbeat soloist, nor the material though it includes a selection of old warhorses. Rather it is down to the unvarnished verité of the recording, which allows every nuance of string, gut and wood to conjoin in a poignantly vulnerable tone.
Regular cohorts pianist Andrew Bemkey, bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Newman Taylor Baker ably support the violinist through the program of one original and five covers which hew close to the mainstream. As the liners explain, Bang chose music by some of the people he admired that he particularly enjoyed playing, rather than with the intention of creating any culminating statement. Drummer Barry Altschul's title track (composed for the FAB Trio of which Bang was a part) forms a suitably swinging flag-waver to get things started. Griffin's patented buzzing multiphonics thicken the ensembles and provide a contrast to the raucous bluster in his solos. Greene's surefooted pizzicato introduces a choppy version of Ornette Coleman's "Law Years," complete with a fine feature from Bemkey which ends with a fetchingly cartoonish plink plonk.
"All Blues" and "St. Thomas" are serviceable, but don't set the pulse racing as much as Bang's best moments which arrive on the two longest cuts: trumpeter Don Cherry's "Guinea" and his own "Daydreams." On the former his unaccompanied introduction, energetic as ever, by turns abrasive, percussive and dramatic sets the scene for a majestic bass driven vamp, over which he saws to great effect, while on the latter he partakes of a stunning solo violin cadenza, following a sparkling piano outing full of wistful longing and a stately bass interlude. Packaged in a typically sumptuous production by TUM Records, Da Bang! comprises a fitting send off to the indefatigable violinist who is still sorely missed.
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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