Billy Bang

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Krentz Ratings:
Black Mans Blues (1977), 5/10
New York Collage (1978), 6/10
First String (1979), 7/10
Distinction Without a Difference (1979), 7/10
Sweet Space (1979), 7/10
Area Code 212 (1980), 5/10
Changing Seasons (1980), 7.5/10
Rainbow Gladiator (1981), 7/10
Common Goal (1981), 5/10
Outline No. 12 (1982), 7.5/10
Invitation (1982), 6/10
Untitled Gift (1982), 6/10
Bangception (1982), 5.5/10
Intensive Care (1983), 5.5/10
Rebirth of a Feeling (1983), 6/10
The Fire From Within (1984), 5.5/10
Live at Carlos 1 (1986), 5.5/10
Natural Balance (1986), 5/10
Valve No. 10 (1986), 5.5/10
Joy (1994), 5.5/10
Spirits Gathering (1996), 5.5/10
Bang On (1997), 5.5/10
Forbidden Planet (1997), 5.5/10
Commandment (1997), 5.5/10
If You Believe (2000), 5.5/10
One for Jazz (2001), 5.5/10
Vietnam - The Aftermath (2001), 6.5/10
Transforming the Space (2003), 6/10
Configurations (2004), 6/10
Prayer for Peace (2005), 5.5/10
Vietnam - Reflections (2004), 6/10
History of Jazz in Reverse (2005), 5/10
Bang - Cole (2009), 5/10
Medicine Buddha (2009), 6/10
Da Bang! (2013), 5.5/10

Billy "Bang" Walker (1947), a pupil of Leroy Jenkins who developed his personal style at the violin by imitating Eric Dolphy's style at the reeds (just like Stuff Smith developed his style at the violin by imitating Louis Armstrong's style at the cornet), formed the Survival Ensemble with two saxophonist (who also played all sorts of percussion), bassist William Parker and two percussionists. Their New York Collage (may 1978), containing lengthy jams such as Nobody Hear the Music the Same Way and For Josie Part II, was inspired by both the Art Ensemble Of Chicago and John Coltrane.

Black Man's Blues (may 1977) documents Bang's recording with the Survival Ensemble. New York Collage (may 1978) collects live performances by the same lineup.

Bang's response to the success of the World Saxophone Quartet was the String Trio Of New York, formed in 1977 with white bassist John Lindberg and white guitarist James Emery. The centerpiece of their First String (june 1979) was Lindberg's 20-minute East Side Suite, that demonstrated their elegant blend of structured composition and free improvisation. Successive recordings, such as Area Code 212 (november 1980) and Common Goal (november 1981), lacked the "piece de resistance" to make them worthwhile. Rebirth of a Feeling (november 1983) boasted Lindberg's Utility Grey but Bang left after Natural Balance (april 1986). Nonetheless the String Trio Of New York was one of the most influential free-jazz ensembles.

On the other hand, Bang's solo Distinction Without A Difference (august 1979) displayed both his broad range of innovative techniques and his skills at mixing free-form and melodic passages (Theme For Masters, Loweski, Sometime Later), while the three lengthy "improvisations", notably the the 21-minute Spiritual, for violin and bass of Billy Bang/ John Lindberg (september 1979), emphasized his emotional language at the instrument.

Despite changing format with just about every record, Bang managed to establish his powerful musical vision through a series of impressive pieces. A sextet featuring tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe, alto saxophonist Luther Thomas, cornet player Butch Morris, pianist Curtis Clark bassist Wilber Morris and drummer Steve McCall, delivered the 16-minute A Pebble Is A Small Rock (co-arranged by Morris), on Sweet Space (december 1979). A trio with Parker and Japanese percussionist Toshi Tsuchitori yielded the three exuberant and cerebral pieces of Changing Seasons (june 1980): Summer Night, Aduwa In Autumn, Winter Rains. Bang employed a piano-based quintet with saxophonist Charles Tyler for the kaleidoscopic Rainbow Gladiator, off Rainbow Gladiator (june 1981), and An Addition To Tradition, off Invitation (april 1982). The quartet with trumpeter Don Cherry of Untitled Gift (february 1982) produced the atmospheric Echovamp 1678 and Maat. A 12-piece orchestra conducted by Butch Morris (with Frank Lowe, two additional violinists, clarinetists David Murray, Charles Tyler and Henri Warner, vibraphonist Khan Jamal, percussionists Sunny Murray and John "Khuwana" Fuller) performed Bang's 19-minute volcano Conception and Seeing Together on Outline No 12 (july 1982). Air Traffic Control came from a duet with drummer Dennis Charles on Bangception (august 1982). Intensive Care (august 1983), by the Jazz Doctors, a free-bop quartet with Frank Lowe, contained Bang's Ballad with one L.

Bang had coined his own genre, a melodic free-jazz or an abstract bebop, and proceeded to cash in on his invention with his sextet (trumpet, electric guitar, bassist William Parker and two percussionists), thanks to the Latin-tinged The New Seers, off The Fire From Within (september 1984), and Abuella, on Live at Carlos 1 (november 1986).

Having left the String Trio Of New York (replaced first by Charles Burnham and then by Regina Carter), Bang was swallowed into the black hole of Sun Ra's Arkestra until 1995.

Despite Valve No 10, introduced by a quartet with Lowe, bassist Sirone and drummer Dennis Charles on Valve No 10 (march 1988), and the "creative" duets with percussionist William Hooker on Joy (june 1994), including the 17-minute Sweating Brain, Etheric Redemption and Joy, Bang's output became more and more oriented towards hard-bop (or even swing). The acrpbatic pieces of the period were Spirits Gathering, off Spirits Gathering (february 1996), for a guitar-based quartet, and Spirits Entering, off Bang On (april 1997), for a piano-based quartet.

The exceptions were sometimes intriguing, such as the rap-jazz fusion of Forbidden Planet (1997), or the solo improvisations of Commandment (march 1997), recorded live in a loft (notably Daydreams), or the trio Tri-Factor of If You Believe (april 2000) with percussionist Kahil El'Zabar and baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett (notably Dark Silhouette), or the new edition of the Jazz Doctors on One for Jazz (june 2001), actually credited to the Billy Bang Quartet (Echoes), but not visionary.

Bang, who fought in Vietnam in the 1960s, invented his own form of (austere and eclectic) political art with Vietnam - The Aftermath (april 2001) and Vietnam - Reflections (may 2004). The former concept album used a piano-based quartet with pianist John Hicks as the foundation, adding other instruments as needed: a trumpet (Ted Daniel) to Yo Ho Chi Minh is in the House and Tunnel Rat, trumpet (Ted Daniel) and tenor saxophone (Frank Lowe) to Bien Hoa Blues, flute (Sonny Fortune) to Fire in the Hole, trumpet (Ted Daniel), tenor saxophone (Frank Lowe) and flute (Sonny Fortune) to Saigon Phunk, etc. The latter, conducted by Butch Morris, was a more homogeneous work, featuring trumpeter Ted Daniel as well as flutists James Spaulding and Henry Threadgill and structured as a series of poignant meditations (Reflections, Lock & Load, Doi Moi, Reconciliation 1, Reconciliation 2).

His compositions continued to straddle the line between free jazz, tradition, world music and popular music. Transforming the Space (february 2003), by a trio called FAB with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Barry Altschul, contained Bang's The Softness of Light and Tales from Da Bronx. Configuration (november 2004), by a quartet called Sirone Bang Ensemble, contained Bang's 15-minute Jupiter's Future. Prayer for Peace (august 2005), featuring James Zollar (trumpet, flugelhorn), Andrew Bemkey (piano), Todd Nicholson (bass) and Newman Taylor-Baker (drums), contained the 20-minute title-track.

Bang-Cole (april 2009) documents a live collaboration with Bill Cole on flute, shenai, nagaswarm and sona.

The Fab Trio, i.e. violinist Billy Bang, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Barry Altschul, is documented on History Of Jazz In Reverse (december 2005)

Billy Bang and William Parker recorded Medicine Buddha (may 2009), that contains the 22-minute Medicine Buddha and the 14-minute Eternal Planet.

Da Bang! (february 2011 - Tum, 2013), his last studio album, contains his Daydreams.

Billy Bang died in april 2011.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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