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Billy Bang: Bang On!

You don’t need to be blessed/cursed with perfect pitch to find out-of-tune horns grating, and that goes double for the voice-like timbres of the violin.

Billy Bang-among the busiest, most independent, and flexible of violinists-has always bucked fashion, playing with rough and ready urgency, and often in the cracks (way off pitch). He can and does find the center of notes and he is often bang-on them on Bang On!, afront a quartet with D.D. Jackson (piano), Akira Ando (bass), and Ronnie Burrage (drums). This is so whether he plucks the strings, pulls down long whinnying glissandi, or wails wide tremolos, or attacks single notes in a line; he does all the above on his opening blues, “Bama Swing.” On “Sweet Georgia Brown” his pitch slips on the theme and his solo breaks fall into quarter-tone cracks. One assumes he hears where the piano and bass are, pitch-wise, and plays below their pitch out of choice, the way you might play way behind the beat. This is not Euro but Afro fiddle, after all. The flatness requires a head adjustment not to bring you down, eased by the persistent buoyancy of the trio, Jackson, a Don Pullen acolyte, being no stranger to ripe sonorities and dense textures; hear his comping under Bang’s wailing on “Spirits Entering.” Nice moments appear on “They Plan” as pizz strings back high piano filigree in 3/4, bright faces are painted on “Eve” and “Yesterdays” survives a healthy deconstruction.

Originally Published