Jazz violin, for some, is an acquired taste. Perhaps this has more to do with the instrument's dominant role in Western classical music, more than anything else, but there's something very naked and vocal about the sound of a violinmuch like the saxophone, it calls forth all sorts of intense emotions. Billy Bang
, who died in April 2011, understood this all too well. He endured more than his share of slings and arrows early in his musical career, only to rise as a crucial participant and instigator of New York's Loft Jazz scene during the 1970s. From there, he went on to cofound the String Trio of New York
, and record a string of stylistically diverse and artistically successful albums as a leader. History of Jazz In Reverse
, Bang's final recording with the FAB Trio and the group's fifth CD overall, is one of the late violinist's finest performances. Largely improvised, the music nevertheless imparts a very strong sense of focusthe sound of three master musicians really listening to each other.
Bang's partners in the FAB Trio are bassist Joe Fonda
and drummer Barry Altschul
veteran musicians whose careers have been spent primarily in the modern jazz arena. Altschul is best known for his genre-defining work during the 1970s with Chick Corea
, David Holland
, Anthony Braxton
, Sam Rivers
, and Paul Bley
. Fonda, a product of the New Haven jazz scene along with Anthony Davis
, Wadada Leo Smith
, and Gerry Hemingway
, has also worked with Braxton.
Here, Bang's sound is full and rich, almost triumphant. On "Homeward Bound," he comes out swinging, firing off darting laser-sharp lines over the roiling rhythm section. Fonda's bass sings like Charlie Haden
's did on Ornette Coleman
's "Lonely Woman," before he breaks out into a thunderous, unaccompanied solo. Altschul is also at the top of his game, as indicated by his solos on "Homeward Bound" and "From Here To There," the latter moving from a spacious, well-paced drum solo into an absolutely volcanic 180+ beats-per-minute jam that has Bang sawing away like a jazz Paganini. Altschul's take on the second line rhythm provides the reference point for "From the Waters of New Orleans." While the rhythm section has a funky party, Bang ekes some really unusual harmonies out of the violin that give the piece a dark, mysterious edge.
Textural, conversational improvisations are also part of the FAB Trio palette. "Implications" starts out in Art Ensemble Of Chicago
mode, with each member of the trio exploring the timbral range of their respective instruments. Surprisingly, Fonda and Altschul converge on an angular 4/4 funk rhythm, as Bang's delicate pizzicato dances on top.
The title track finds the trio in a particularly interactive modeeach member playing fragments of lines, carefully spaced or overlainbefore Bang takes up a melody that sounds like a field holler or gospel lament. The trio gradually moves towards a moderate tempo swagger as Bang continues to improvise; listening to this is almost like watching a flower open in real time. Beautiful!