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Billy Bang: Da Bang!

Troy Collins By

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Da Bang! is the last studio album recorded by violinist Billy Bang, made just two months before he passed away on April 11, 2011. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, Bang spoke about the healing power of music during these sessions and how he wanted to give something back to those who inspired and supported him. Considering the bulk of the record consists of covers, this final effort can be interpreted as the innovative violinist's elegy to the artists and music he most loved.

The assembled quintet features legendary trombonist Dick Griffin, a former sideman to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus and Sun Ra, performing alongside members of Bang's touring band, including pianist Andrew Bemkey, bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. Prayer for Peace, Bang's previous TUM Records release from 2008, presented a similar lineup, with trumpeter James Zollar and bassist Todd Nicholson in place of Griffin and Greene.

Conceptually centered around the meditative opus "Daydreams," Bang's sole compositional contribution, Da Bang! serves as a notable reminder of the leader's visionary approach. Originally conceived as a solo piece for violin, this rendition is bolstered by minimal accompaniment and introspective musings from Bemkey and Greene. Bang's bracing unaccompanied soliloquy dominates the piece however; with no obvious diminishment in sound or technique he transcends stylistic limitations, seamlessly blending folksy lyricism and neo-classical formalism with bold avant-garde flourishes. His sinuous phrasing and earthy tone remain unmistakable, expressing the same raw expressionism heard in his seminal 1970s efforts with the String Trio of New York.

The remainder of the date is comprised of classic tunes by Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, with the titular opener written by drummer Barry Altschul, Bang's partner in the long-running FAB Trio with bassist Joe Fonda. Coleman's "Law Years" is delivered in suitably rugged fashion, while Cherry's "Guinea" offers the most salient example of Bang's inspired virtuosity, with sinewy double-stops, woody pizzicato and exotic arco harmonics evoking Eastern tonalities. Gorgeous collaborative readings of "All Blues" and "St. Thomas" conclude the set; the former unfolds as a hypnotic waltz, the latter an ebullient calypso.

Although Bang rightfully predominates as principal soloist throughout the proceedings, ample space is allotted for his sidemen. The rhythm section's sensitive, swinging accompaniment conveys palpable fervor, their congenial interplay reinforced by Griffin, whose brassy exhortations provide blustery counterpoint to the leader's soaring extrapolations.

Though certainly not the last addition to Bang's discography (more posthumous releases are forthcoming), Da Bang! is nonetheless a poignant farewell from a singular artist whose creative legacy will undoubtedly continue to inspire future generations.

Track Listing: Da Bang; Guinea; Daydreams; Law Years; All Blues; St Thomas.

Personnel: Billy Bang: violin; Dick Griffin: trombone; Andrew Bemkey: piano; Hilliard Greene: bass; Newman Taylor-Baker: drums.

Title: Da Bang! | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: TUM Records

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CD/LP/Track Review
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