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Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha

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In 2009, two years before Billy Bang lost his battle with lung cancer, the violinist teamed up with bassist William Parker for a performance at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. To hear Parker tell it in this album’s liner notes, the duo’s longstanding friendship involved not only shared musical sensibilities but humor and a sense of joie de vivre as well. Those feelings come across clearly on this set. Even with just two instruments, they create a rich, vibrant sound.

Bang plays a slow, rapturous melody over an arco bass drone in the title track, before leaving Parker to his own devices. With bow in hand the bassist fuses gentle and rough sonorities in a solo that could be described as career defining. His partner returns with equally furious bowing that opens new textural pathways for the violin. Before you realize it, 22 minutes have flown by.

Bang later switches to kalimba on one track and Parker picks up both the shakuhachi and the stringed dousn gouni, all adding to the expanse of their dialogue. Rather than improvising the whole set, they also perform two Parker compositions. “Eternal Planet” is a flowing piece that pays tribute to the late violinist Leroy Jenkins. Unlike the rest of the set, the closing “Buddha’s Joy” builds on a steady bass vamp, showing the duo was just as comfortable inside as outside. Throughout Medicine Buddha, Bang’s upper-register scrapes can be hard on the fillings, but those moments are cancelled out by the sheer passion and emotion he reveals throughout this concert.

Originally Published