Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bang that violin

Billy Bang isn't Stuff Smith or Stéphane Grappelli, although he steps out of their tradition as that fairly unusual kind of musician, a jazz violinist. I think Bang would probably be more comfortable in the classical setting more normal for his instrument of choice than either Smith or Grappelli, and yet he is no less the jazz musician.

His "Vietnam: Reflections" is a unified work like Bob Belden's incredible "Black Dahlia" with the same epic nature covering, in this case, Bang's experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. If that sounds to you like a like a theme likely to produce emotionally charged music, you're right. The CD from Justin Time also reminds me of Nguyen Le's "Dding Dek" in its incorporation of Vietnamese musical rhythms with Jazz, "Waltz of the Water Puppets" a standout example.

Other highlights: "Lock & Load," which despite the war connotation swings like mad. Ted Daniel, also a Vietnam veteran, does great trumpet work. Meanwhile, "Doi Moi" is a heart-rending ballad with Bang and pianist John Hicks, who seems to be great no matter what context you place him in, front and center. (Hicks is prominent on the musically diverse closer "Reconciliation 2" as well.) Add in notables such as James Spaulding on alto sax and flute, Henry Threadgill on flute, Curtis Lundy on bass and Michael Carvin on drums (he also gets in a heck of a run on "Reconciliation 2," which works in classical, jazz and oriental motifs) and you get a superior disk.

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