Billy Bang

Prayer for Peace
TUM CD 018

By Ken Waxman

Prayer for Peace may be violinist Billy Bang’s most fully realized session, since it balances his influences with his present-day concerns. With the nearly 20-minute title track a major anti-war statement, other tunes pay homage to his childhood in Spanish Harlem, 1930s jazz fiddler Stuff Smith and Bang’s erstwhile employer Sun Ra.

With trumpeter James Zollar channeling Jonah Jones’ mellow, muted tone, pianist Andy Bemkey key clipping, a Major Holley-like rhythmic bass break from Todd Nicholson, and Bang’s curlicue stops and melodic extensions, the Smith-tribute, “Only Time will Tell” reaches the same level of enjoyable swing in which Smith specialized. Like the work of the older violinist as well, it entertains without pandering. Additionally, a number such as “Chan Chan”, which adds the vibrating friction promulgated by percussionists Milton Cardona and Joe Gonzalez, dazzles with shuffle bowing and spiccato runs from Bang plus brassy, plunger work from the trumpeter, who often also works in Latin-jazz settings.

Meanwhile “Jupiter’s Future”, honoring Sun Ra, mashes up different styles as Ra himself favored, with drummer Newman Taylor-Baker beating his snares and vibrating his cymbals as Bemkey’s chords like Bill Evans and Zollar’s shaking glisses and freak notes contribute to the this multiphonic time dislocation. Bang’s slippery flying staccato and triple-stopping bow pressure not only allows him to suggest an entire string section by himself, but also to output a flowing moderato ending.

But these tunes are ancillary to the major statement which is “Prayer for Peace”. Initially composed as part of a Peace Day remembrance of the Hiroshima bombing, the multi-part suite rests on irregular drags and cymbal splatters, a thumping bass line and vaguely Orientalized piano chords. Zollar initially elaborates the theme with bent tonguing and emphasized grace notes, with another variant showcasing sharp triple-stopping and shamisen-like plucks from the fiddler. A final thematic recap is more Europeanized, somberly dependent on descending, slurred fingering from the pianist.

This CD is both an enjoyable listen plus a major musical statement.

Tracks: Only Time Will Tell; At Play in the Fields of the Lord*; Dance of the Manakin; Prayer for Peace; Chan Chan*; Dark Silhouette; Jupiter’s Future

Personnel: James Zollar: trumpet and flugelhorn; Billy Bang: violin; Andrew Bemkey: piano; Todd Nicholson: bass; Newman Taylor-Baker: drums; Milton Cardona*: conga and percussion; Joe Gonzalez*: bongos and percussion

— For All About Jazz New York November 2010