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Monday, March 27, 2006

Billy Bang Quartet at An Die Musik

Billy Bang Quartet
Saturday March 25, 2006
An Die Musik, Baltimore

There’s something very special about Billy Bang. His music, his message, his presence, and his emotion all transcend peace through his violin in a way that is at times chaotic, while in other instances purely serene. It’s not just music. He brings a greater sense of a movement towards a peaceful land. Bang and his quartet were in Baltimore at An Die Musik this past Saturday for a couple shows.
Bang seems to have taken a liking to the small venue. He was in there at the end of 2005 with Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual. This time the soulful Bang brought along bassist Todd Nicholson, pianist Andrew Bemkey, and drummer Darrell Green.
An Die Musik is a gem of a place to see a show. Catering to the jazz, classical and improvisational world of music, the place seems more like a museum than a venue. There’s room for about 80 people and everyone in the house is there for the music. It’s a good bet that if someone were talking during a performance they would be asked to leave.
Bang and company took to the stage with a loud applause. “We’re going to play a lot off my Vietnam recordings,” Bang told the attentive crowd. A veteran of war, the violinist was profoundly affected by what he experienced overseas. They jumped right into “Tunnel Rat (Flashlight and a 45).” The song, taken from the Vietnam: The Aftermath album, combined a beautiful Asian feel with explorative jazz swing. There’s no real way to describe the ferocity that Bang takes to his instrument. He channels the likes of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman through the violin.
Moving away from the Vietnam theme, Bang and his mates went Cuban. “I really like to play this one,” Bang explained before hitting the first notes of the Buena Vista Social Club’s “Chan Chan.” This tune fit perfectly into the set, really focusing on the interplay between Bang and the tickling of Bemkey's piano.
This would be a good time to comment on the level of the band that Bang brought to town. They were outstanding. As mentioned, Bemkey's piano was amazing. He seemed to beat his instrument, looking half crazy as he smiled and slammed his hands on the keys. Although Nicholson never really took off (he had one long solo that let everyone know he was the man), he kept the rhythm for the rest of the band. But perhaps the most pleasant part of the group, aside from the obvious Bang, was Green. The young man started playing professionally when he was five. Probably in his mid-to-late twenties presently, just imagine where his skill level lays. Yep, you got it: Relaxed, tight, and sounds coming from every direction.
Every time Bang would take a solo the place would shatter into applause. “Bien Hoa Blues” settled in like a storm, with Bang making noise unknown to most of man/woman. The violinist page homage to a mentor of his, Sun Ra, with the angelic “Jupiter’s Future.” Bang played with Sun Ra in one of the pianists famous Archestras.
Before you knew it Bang was thanking the small crowd for coming out. Everyone in the joint bounced up, hands clapping, and shouted for one more. “Alright,” said Bang, “We’ll play one more. Here’s a classic of mine, ‘Rainbow Gladiator.’” The slow ballad let everyone down easy, as if putting the wide-eyed to bed with a sweet lullaby. It can still be felt days after the show.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

Tina Brooks True Blue
Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio Big Cliff
Sound Directions The Funky Side of Life
Duke Ellington Money Jungle
Sun Ra Atlantis


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