Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble - Black Man's Blues/New York Collage (NoBusiness, 2011)
Violinist Billy Bang had been through a lot by the time he was ready to record his first LP as a leader, included as part of this extraordinary two-disc collection of his early work. Bang had survived a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam, an influx of competing musicians from the Midwest, and the economic hardships that creative musicians in New York City always face. The music itself however, is raw and fascinating. The lengthy liner essay by Ed Hazel documents the scene in great detail, citing the influence of Black Nationalism and particularly the writings of Malcolm X as a driving force behind the group's mission. The Survival Ensemble consisted of: Billy Bang on violin, Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor and soprano saxophones, Henry Warner on alto saxophone, William Parker on bass, Khuwana Fuller on congas and Rashid Bakr on drums. In addition, musicians would recite poetry and play percussion instruments as well. The first disc, entitled Black Man's Blues was recorded in 1977 at an anti-apartheid fund raiser, consists of two lengthy medleys, Albert Ayler/Know Your Enemy" and Ganges/Enchantment/Tapestry" along with Rahman's strong Black Man's Blues." Incorporating spoken word extolling the life and music of Albert Ayler, the first medley builds to a wonderfully deep and raw exploration of improvised music. The half-hour long middle medley written by William Parker, allows the bands dynamism to come to the forefront, developing open sections of bass and percussion with full band improvisation. Black Man's Blues" includes some incendiary poetry before the equally powerful music that follows. Disc two was Bang's first proper album, New York Collage, originally released on the small Anima label in 1978. Recorded at the studios of WKCR, the music is even tighter and more polished than the previous disc. Dedicate to John Coltrane, Bang's Nobody Hear Music the Same Way" is a wonderful exploration of the late period Coltrane aesthetic, as is the deeply moving For Josie, Part II." Mixing poetry and music is Illustration" which develops a patchwork of words and music into a coherent whole. Rahman's Subhanallah" wraps up the album with a strong and potent improvisation. This was a very well done release with the re-mastered music sounding crisp and clear and the extensive liner notes and photography putting everything in context. This is a model historical jazz release and serves as a potent reminder not just of the potency of Billy Bang's music but a missing link to the music of the Loft Jazz Era. Black Man's Blues/New York CollageNoBusiness Records.