Billy Bang

Vietnam: Reflections
Justin Time Just 212-2

A refinement rather than a squeal to violinist Billy Bang’s highly praised Vietnam: The Aftermath, this CD extends his cathartic musings on his Southeast Asian war experiences by adding traditional sounds from two Vietnamese performers to those created by his freebop ensemble. Probably the foremost clue to his conception is that tunes entitled “Reconciliation1” and “Reconciliation 2” take up one-third of the disc.

On the former and elsewhere, the vocals of Co Boi Nguyen and the stroked dan tranh – or plucked zither – textures from Nhan Thanh Ngo provide distinctive patterns which the other musicians use to their advantage. While there is an Oriental cast to some of the themes in the Bang-crafted originals, this isn’t some so-called world music match-up. Bang and company – some members of whom like trumpeter Ted Daniel, drummer Michael Carvin, percussionist Ron Brown and conductor Butch Morris are also Nam veterans – are jazzmen first.

Thus Carvin’s shimmering cymbal work and Daniel’s open-horned patterning come from that background; so does Curtis Lundy’s walking bass lines and John Hicks’ bluesy piano fills. Brown varies his percussion patterns on the traditional “Trong Com”, yet despite Nguyen’s vocalizing, Bang’s distinctive plucking and plinking makes this cheery rice harvest song sound like it came from the fields of North Carolina, not those of North Vietnam.

Along with Bang’s sharp tone with its double-stopping sharp glissandi and speedy spiccato, it’s Daniel’s sweet-and-sour open-horn that gives pieces such as the title tune their unforced power. The fiddler may say that during his tour of duty “the rhythm of machine guns is what I heard”, but with versatile sidefolk like these, he has transformed that nightmare into another CD suite that ranks alongside his earlier triumphs and includes a message of reconciliation and renewal.

— Ken Waxman