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Acclaimed violinist Billy Bang’s Da Bang! was recorded back in February of 2011, two months before Bang succumbed to cancer. Just released on June 18, 2013 on TUM Records, Da Bang! is the follow-up to the Billy Bang Group’s first recording for TUM Records, Prayer for Peace, in 2005. Bang was born in Mobile, Alabama but was raised in New York City. On Da Bang!, Bang’s unparalleled violin play is joined by trombonist Dick Griffin, pianist Andrew Bemkey, Hilliard Greene on double bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums.
“Guinea” opens with rapid violin play from Bang and listeners could almost envision Bang strumming away happily on his beloved instrument. Then, Bemkey’s piano and Griffin’s trombone enter the melody bringing a decisive mixture of sounds together to form a spry vibe. Greene’s double bass can be heard in the background as well.
The title track was composed by drummer Barry Altschul for the FAB Trio, which Joe Fonda, Altschul and Bang co-founded in 2003. Taylor-Baker’s drums and Bemkey’s piano prevail in the intro. Then, Bang’s adept violin enters the mix along with Griffin’s rich trombone play. Taylor-Baker’s drums and Bemkey’s piano continue more faintly as Bang’s violin and Griffin’s trombone seem to retake the forefront but throughout their sounds all flow concurrently.
“Law Years” was recorded by saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer Ornette Coleman for the first time in 1971. This track begins differently than its predecessors, with Greene’s double bass kicking things off. Then, Taylor-Baker’s drumming and Bang’s violin make their presence known quite forcibly. Then, there’s a pause and Greene’s double bass and Taylor-Baker’s drums retake the track.
“All Blues” is a classic first recorded by Miles Davis with his famous sextet featuring John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb in 1956. On Bang’s version, Griffin’s tickling of the ivories and the pounding drumming from Taylor-Baker begin the track. Then, Bang’s violin arrives. This song could be in a motion picture where the lead character is about to attempt an extraordinary feat as the tempo builds to a crescendo.
Finally, “St. Thomas” is probably the most famous composition in tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s arsenal. Its origins are said to have been traditional Danish or an English folk song that morphed into a nursery rhyme and then into a popular calypso-style tune in the Virgin Islands. For those movie aficionados, this song was featured in the 1988 romantic comedy, Working Girl, which starred Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver. It begins with high violin notes from Bang, then Taylor-Baker’s tropical sounding drums. It’s definitely a cheery song to end the album.
Da Bang! from Billy Bang is a fitting tribute to a true wizard with the violin, who was taken away too soon. Through this album, his talent and genius will endure for future generations of violin lovers to hear and enjoy.