Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Violinist Billy Bang brings joy to his music, even when he's contemplating very deep subjects. His last two studio recordings, Vietnam: The Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time), showed the former Army sergeant dealing with the pain, many years later, of coming home from war. They're terrific albums. So, too, is his latest, Prayer For Peace. The CD kicks off and closes with tributes to two of Bang's musical mentors. On the opener, Stuff Smith's "Only Time Will Tell," the violinist and trumpeter James Zollar trade licks on this bouncy jaunt guaranteed to draw a smile and start feet tapping. On the closer, Bang effectively summons the spirit of his former boss, Sun Ra, on the original "Jupiter's Future." It's a driving, outlandish tune with great solos by Andrew Bemkey on piano, Zollar and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums. Two-thirds of the way through the tune, Bang takes his turn and sounds like he's going to saw the violin in half with an aggressive, no-caution romp. In between the tributes are four other nice Bang originals and a kick-ass take on Compay Segundo's "Chan Chan." But the centerpiece of the record is the title track, "Prayer For Peace." Bang, an anti-war crusader, debuted the composition at a Peace Day event memorializing the U.S.'s bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. It's a fascinating listen, nearly 20 minutes long, but worth it. "Prayer" begins with bassist Todd Nicholson bowing a long drone. Soon Taylor-Baker joins with an Asian flare on drums, followed by pianist Bemkey. It's a slow build before Bang and Zollar begin to introduce more melodic themes. The beauty here is that every musician, every instrument, is clear, thoughtful and precise. Bang and his band know exactly what they want to say and how they want to say it. "Prayer For Peace" is Billy Bang's poignant call for the seemingly impossible. It's a beautiful prayer. I hope to live long enough to see it answered." -DownBeat
JazzTimes (p.48) - "The shriek and sigh of Bang's violin is one of the most expressive sounds in jazz, a gut-level aesthetic correlative to the human condition."
Personnel: Billy Bang (violin); James Zollar (trumpet, flugelhorn); Andrew Bemkey (piano); Newman Taylor-Baker (drums).
Audio Mixers: Esa Santonen; Henrik Otto Donner.
Liner Note Authors: Howard Mandel; Billy Bang.
Recording information: Avatar Studios, New York, NY (08/30/2005-08/31/2005).
Photographers: Dominik Huber; Juha Lökström.
Since Billy Bang's pivotal recording Vietnam: The Aftermath, the modern creative violinist has been refining his approach to making music with an Asian-inspired touch, largely successful and definitely personal. With Prayer for Peace, he's more adamant about war being unnecessary -- domestically or internationally -- serving up a progressive jazz that speaks to the heart while refusing to take no for an answer. Produced by the Tum label out of Helsinki, Finland, violin master Bang has convened an ensemble with contrasting styles, with the spare piano musings of Andrew Bemkey, the conversational, taut, and vibrant trumpeter James Zollar, a relatively standard rhythm section, and on two cuts, Afro-Cuban percussionists. Ranging from straight-ahead swing to Latin or Pan-Pacific sounds, Bang is stretching out in ways he has only stylistically touched on in previous projects. The CD is bookended with straight-ahead vintage jazz, including the opener, Stuff Smith's neat "Only Time Will Tell" while Cuban Compay Segundo's contrasting light, seductive danzon "Chan Chan" includes the masterful hand drummers Milton Cardona and Joe Gonzalez. Of the five originals penned by Bang, Bemkey's thinly veiled piano gives the band a crystal platform to launch the violinist's tart strings in Mandarin-like tones during the inspired, low-density funk of "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," and for a modal discourse during "Dark Silhouette." Bassist Todd Nicholson and the underappreciated Newman Taylor-Baker at the drum kit are so locked in with each other as to provide the ultimate springboard for Bang and an effervescent Zollar (check out his CD Zollar Systems) to take off from in counter measures. The partnership established between all of these musicians is rare, and as unique unto itself as any other ensemble Billy Bang has ever assembled. This CD comes with a very high recommendation, containing music even skeptics of Bang's previous outings can easily enjoy. ~ Michael G. Nastos
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