Friday, August 20, 2010

Billy Bang - Prayer for Peace (TUM Records, 2010)

Violinist Billy Bang's own road to peace has been particularly hard fought, first as a soldier in Vietnam and then on the progressive jazz scene, his music has charted an original path as both a musician and a seeker for calm and truth. This album was cut in 2005, not long after recording a successful series of albums that he made to help come to terms with his memories of war. On this album he takes the next logical step, turning from confronting war to seeking peace. Joining him on this album are James Zollar on trumpet and flugelhorn, Andrew Bemkey on piano, Todd Nicholson on bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums. The music begins with a nod to one of Bang's predecessors, swing violinist Stuff Smith with a gently swinging version of Smith's "Only Time Will Tell." Bang's gently swirling violin and Zollar's growling trumpet are used to good effect, and the music has a sweet and joyful feel. "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" and "Chan Chan" have a Latin groove with the addition of extra percussion, and they use this added rhythm wisely to create colorful improvisations. "Dance of the Manakin" and the Sun Ra tribute "Jupiter's Future" are exciting uptempo performances with the former drawing on some of the east Asian flavor of his previous LP's and the latter coming close to free jazz in its intensity. The centerpiece of the album is the title track, "Prayer for Peace" which evolves slowly like a meditative suite over the course of nearly twenty minutes. The music is slow and ruminative, patiently pulling together a number of musical threads into a cohesive whole. Billy Bang's journey is a fascinating one, a very personal path that has allowed him to confront the issues of his past and use them in his chosen art to find a peaceful center. This album is thoughtful and well played with melodies and improvisations that are quite memorable. Destination Out has reported that Bang has recently fallen ill, and hopefully this is a short setback for a musician who has given so much. Prayer For Peace -

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