Tum Records TUM CD 034
Billy Bang came of age amidst the Civil Rights movement and free jazz. Having studied violin as a child, he returned to the instrument after combat duty in Vietnam, a harrowing experience later revisited in recordings like Vietnam: Reflections. From his first recordings in the late 70s, he emerged as the most compelling jazz violinist of his day, combining the robust swing of 1930s violinists like Stuff Smith and the visionary power of John Coltrane.
Bang recorded this final session in Finland in February 2011, two months before his death from lung cancer. The repertoire includes two very familiar tunes, Miles Davis’ All Blues and Sonny Rollins’ calypso-fuelled St. Thomas, but even that emphasizes Bang’s originality in mating musicians and material. The front line of Bang’s eerily thin violin sound and Dick Griffin’s robust trombone is very distinctive, emphasizing the combination of frailty and force that gives Bang’s work a special intensity.
The band sounds as if Bang assembled it for maximum authority, creating a powerhouse rhythm section of pianist Andrew Bemkey, bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Newman Taylor-Baker. They work in a largely received tradition, but Bang extends it in stunning ways: in his unaccompanied introduction to Don Cherry’s Guinea, pentatonic patterns and microtones link vernacular violin sounds — a Vietnamese đàn gáo, a Kenyan orutu — to early traditions of African-American fiddling, suggesting a unique perspective on the expressive depths and possibilities of jazz. Da Bang! is a powerful final testament.