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Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections

Billy Bang’s Vietnam: The Aftermath, released in 2001, was the most important recording in years by a jazz violinist. Bang courageously confronted the trauma of his experience as a soldier in Vietnam, and the nightmares that had haunted him for 30 years.

Vietnam: Reflections is not a sequel but a logical next step in Bang’s process of healing and reconciliation. He keeps the powerfully effective personnel from Aftermath mostly intact. Whether Vietnam veterans (trumpeter Ted Daniel, drummer Michael Carvin, percussionist Ron Brown, cornetist-conductor Butch Morris) or not (pianist John Hicks, bassist Curtis Lundy, reed players James Spaulding and Henry Threadgill), all are passionately, creatively engaged. Reflections also introduces two musicians born in Vietnam, vocalist Co Boi Nguyen and Nhan Thanh Ngo, who plays the dan tranh, similar to a dulcimer

Bang’s compositions are different in tone from those of Aftermath, with less musical depiction of fear and pain and more poignant cross-cultural empathy. But they are still provocative, from the lethal, swaggering groove of “Lock & Load” to the devastating sadness of the dirge “Doi Moi.”

In an ensemble of compelling soloists, the best is Bang himself. His violin-whether softly keening, shrieking, hissing or singing to keep from weeping-is one of the most expressive voices in jazz today.

Originally Published