Thirsty Ear THI 57133.2

William Parker’s name may be above the title, but as the subtitle — violin trio — makes clear, the spectacular success of this CD rests in the bow and four strings of Billy Bang.

Legitimate successor to the mantle of Stuff Smith as jazz’s most original string soloist, New York-based Bang’s output has been inconsistent since he first came to prominence in the late 1970s with the String Trio of New York. But everything must have been in alignment on this date as Bang cuts loose on a half-dozen of Parker’s compositions, backed by the New York bassist and Chicago drummer Hamid Drake.

On “Singing Spirits”, which Parker dedicates to Charles Mingus, not only are the creations of his fiddle speech-like, but instrumentally the phrases are tougher than any gang-associated rapper could even hope to equal. At time Bang’s tone is so abrasive that it sounds as if he’s cutting into the wood and the catgut to slice out the music. Never a believer in proper violin timbre, his lines are even more dissonant here as he aims for the spirit beneath the music. At times he sounds like the type of country violinist who recorded with Mississippi blues pioneer Charlie Patton or perhaps an African one-string fiddler. Yet Parker’s string progression and the color from Drake’s press rolls and cymbal power, cut that primitivism with the sophistication of a modern improviser.

Parker describes “Dust on a White Shirt” as a “square dance song”. It’s more like a country and western blues, though, sort of what would happen if country fiddler Johnny Gimble knew Stanvinsky or if Muddy Waters and Anton Webern got together at a barn dance. Piercing at times, Bang’s tone sounds that way in order to allow him to play as quickly as he needs. Most of the time he seems to go beyond portamento and never take the bow off the strings, while Drake provides the rhythmic bounce. Countrified all right, at one point it seems that the violin lines and Parker’s solid bass pulse are sounding out “Turkey in the Straw”.

“Sunday Morning Church” is the bassman’s real showcase however. As secular as it is sacred, the polyphonic, more than 11½-minute composition mixes a tough ostinato from Parker and Bang’s melancholy violin line. The fiddler spends so much time figuratively speaking it tongues though, that sometimes it seems he’s sounding two violins simultaneously. Meanwhile the bassist revels in the resonation he can get from the lowest part of his instrument, never pretending that he’s playing a cello or a bass guitar. Eventually the tune resolves itself into a cousin of one of John Coltrane’s single chord vamp pieces, in near inert tempo.

On other tracks on the CD based, says Parker, on memories and images from dreams, Bang trade fours with Drake, but the overriding auditory image he suggests is that of a string quartet made up of four violinists, each quadruple stopping with solos in palatable screech mode.

Want a bang up demonstration of the skill of Parker of a composer and/or Bang has a soloist? SCRAPBOOK is the CD for you.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Scrapbook 2. Sunday Morning Church 3. Singing Spirits 4. Dust on a White Shirt 5. Urban 6. Holiday for Flowers

Personnel: Billy Bang (violin); William Parker (bass); Hamid Drake (drums)