Billy Bang Is in the House

Little kid struggling to comprehend his past opens up new worlds for jazz fiddle

by Tom Hull

The following is the pre-edit version, a good deal longer than the one that published in the Village Voice.

*Vietnam: Reflections*
Justin Time


*Live at the River East Art Center*

*Tara's Song*

*Sweet Space/Untitled Gift* [1979-82]
8th Harmonic Breakdown

Three observations: 1) We've started to see a vast expansion in the
number of jazz violinists. 2) None of the newcomers sound anything
like Billy Bang. 3) Bang is at the pinnacle of a thirty-year career,
at a point rare in jazz where everything he does takes your breath
away. Before Bang, jazz violinists were few and far between, mostly
coming out of folk traditions -- Stéphane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Bob
Wills. Recent growth comes from the expansion of jazz programs at
music schools, siphoning off some of the legions of young violinists
trained for the Euroclassics. Bang stands out because he forged his
sound from scratch -- or more precisely, by listening to the sounds
the instrument could produce with ears tuned to Trane, Ornette, and
the AACM.

His story reveals his uniqueness, as does his name. Aliases are rare
in jazz (Sun Ra, who else?) -- more common in rock (cf. Billy Zoom),
even more so in hip-hop, whose Bronx founders came out of Bang's
'hood and era. It was a teenage nickname, given to him as a taunt,
adopted as a badge of honor. Same with the violin: he attended a
special music school in Harlem up to 8th grade, where the students
were grouped by size, and the little kid got the violin. He would
have chosen drums, which he played in subways for change, or the
saxophone, which he never got a shot at. But he dropped the violin
when he got a scholarship to a prep school in Massachusetts. He
came back more confused than ever: "I wasn't black enough to be
with the black kids and not white enough to be with the white kids."
{Jung interview} He got drafted, trained in infantry, swept into the
Vietnam jungle, where he was promoted to sergeant. "When I came home,
I felt really abused. I felt kidnapped . . . tricked into doing
something that I should never have done." {Garelick interview}

Back home the South Bronx had degenerated into a war zone, and many
of his friends were so fucked up he wondered if he had been safer
in Vietnam. He studied pre-law on the GI Bill, worked in a law firm,
quit in disgust at how money manipulates justice. He read politics,
falling in with a gang of would-be revolutionaries. On a trip down
south to buy guns, he picked up a pawn shop violin -- figured that
at least was an instrument he knew something about. He stuck with it,
moving downtown to be closer to the musicians. He tracked down AACM
violinist Leroy Jenkins, who helped him with technique. He worked
his way through the late-'70s loft scene, recording with fellow vet
Frank Lowe, founding the String Trio of New York with John Lindberg
and James Emery. He called his own first group the Survival Ensemble.
He worked on the fringes of the avant-garde for decades, gigging with
Sun Ra, recording occasionally in Europe. It was a marginal way to
make a living. In 2000 he was so broke Justin Time's Jean-Pierre Leduc
talked him into writing an album about his experiences in Vietnam and
the nightmares that haunted him ever since.

Like Oliver Stone's Vietnam movies, Bang started small and personal.
*Vietnam: The Aftermath* is a spooky record, a soldiers' eye view of
a country that, as "Yo! Ho Chi Minh Is in the House" makes ominously
clear, didn't belong to them, and didn't welcome them. The record
succeeds on at least three levels: Bang's compositions are a good
deal more complete and melodic than he's ever needed before; his
violin captures perfectly the musical tone of Indochina; Butch
Morris' conduction holds a large ensemble tightly on track. The
album came out during the post-9/11 war fever, when we would have
benefitted from a sharper memory of America's misadventure. But the
album proved cathartic enough for Bang to proceed toward two more
installments. The next, *Vietnam: Reflections*, came out this summer,
offering two small steps toward reconciliation and healing: the songs
include several folk songs, and two of the performers are Vietnamese
expatriates. The third, forthcoming, will document Bang's return to

While Bang's Vietnam records developed a new and highly accessible
path for Bang, he hasn't lost touch with his old comrades. The best
place to hear him play is still William Parker's *Scrapbook* (2003,
Thirsty Ear), but on a spate of more recent records he consistently
steals the show. *Configuration*, his record with Revolutionary
Ensemble bassist Sirone, rocks so hard that saxophonist Charles
Gayle comes off like an r&b honker. The live record with El'Zabar
(there's also a DVD) is the first of two tributes to the late Malachi
Favors: while the drummer's sermon is awful wishy-washy, Bang and
saxophonist Ari Brown trade lines with furious abandon. *Tara's Song*
is tremendous fun, with four Sun Ra alumni plus young Alex Harding on
baritone sax. They drive bebop to the dance floor, make love out of
Frank Lowe, recite Sun Ra lyrics like scripture, and close with a
surprisingly conventional "Iko Iko."

Equally welcome is a critical reissue of two long forgotten albums
from Bang's loft days. *Sweet Space* is a septet date with pumping
vamps setting up free rejoinders by Bang and Frank Lowe. *Untitled
Gift* is a quartet with Bang squaring off with Don Cherry working
an Ornette Coleman-centered songlist, in one of the most exciting
encounters of either musician's career. The early albums underscore
Bang's original intention to follow in the saxophonists' footsteps.
His more recent work, including turns toward more popular music on
*Bang On!* (1996, Justin Time) and more exotic music on the *Vietnam*
records, show the many ways he's taken jazz violin into unchartered

[Bang will appear as part of the Stone's Don Cherry Festival Oct. 8,
8pm, with a quintet including trumpeter James Zollar -- a possible
update of *Untitled Gift*.] 


Review approved for half-a-page (667 or 800 words).

Born September 20, 1947, Mobile, Alabama. Name: William Vincent Walker. Billy Bang was a nickname from junior high school days, from a cartoon character. Moved to NYC very young ("his feet first touched the ground on Lenox Avenue and 111th Street"). "One aunt had a collection of blues records, the other a stack of gospel discs. Add to this the sounds of rhythm and blues, which emanated from Harlem's storefronts." Then picked up jazz, Miles and Trane. Started violin at age 7 ("I was small"), in orchestra of a music school in Harlem, but didn't stick with it. Got a scholarship (9th grade) to a boarding school in Massachusetts -- no music department, but more academic. "I was rubbing shoulders with all the wealthy people's children in America such as Jackie Robinson's son. I went there two years and then I became frustrated to basically my naivete to American racism. I didn't quit eunderstand the things that were affecting me, but they were horrible at that school." Returned to the Bronx ("I was a total mess. I think that was the beginning of my schizophrenia.") Didn't graduate. Got drafted (1966).

In Army, did a year in Vietnam, in the infantry. ("I am one of the few guys that actually humped the boonies and lived in the jungle." Notes that Frank Lowe was an MP, Butch Morris a medic.) The experience left him "completely spaced out. After I came out, I wasn't doing anything other than reading books about Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. Around this time, 1968-69, we got the Delmark Records in the Bronx, where I lived. We started hearing those records and it was the first time we heard Braxton or Leo Smith or Leroy Jenkins. So I heard Leroy playing the violin in a different context, other than the European context of violin playing. And I decided to maybe try and pick it back up again. I wanted to play music again, because we would somehow associate music with politics. I started messing around with the flute, but I said, 'I'd better do something that I know something about.' Which was the violin."

He picked up a cheap violin in a pawn shop, "and I would start scratching on it, sounding like shit." Moved to East Village to be where the music is. He was 21 at the time, "pretty old to start, but I was very determined." Listened to AACM records on Delmark, which he found very sharp and political. Tracked down Leroy Jenkins in NY and spent six months learning techniques, playing with him; otherwise mostly self-taught. Got involved in loft scene, playing a lot at Rashied Ali's Ali Alley. Did a solo album for Hat Hut (Werner Uehlinger).

"After I did my tour in Vietnam, I felt above a lot of the everyday activities in this world. I faced death and I think I had died more than once, so after that, I was sort of an untouchable. Me with my music, I don't feel the threatening situation that others felt. I didn't feel obligated to have to compromise or the necessity to have to kiss anybody's ass. I was determined to be focused in a Billy Bang direction until today, I am the same way. I think that strength is what kept me going, that commitment of strength, that conviction. They didn't like the things that I did in the beginning. In fact, I didn't like a lot of it, but I was committed enough to keep trying and not be shot down by critics, writers, peers, whomever."

Bang's first group was called the Survival Ensemble (recorded an album in 1978). Joined Sun Ra in 1982, for ten years. Formed the Solomonic Quartet in 1990 with Ahmed Abdullah. Lived in Berlin 1996-2000. One of his groups is an English fusion ensemble called Sonicphonics (since 1998).

Web references:

  • Billy Bang Discography.
  • Jazz Weekly: A Fireside Chat With Billy Bang: interview with Fred Jung.
  • Biographies: by Abbey Rader and Robert Spencer. Cites Ornette Coleman's violin work as an influence.
  • Boston Phoenix: Jon Garelick piece. Includes quote from Bang: "When I came home, I felt really abused. I felt kidnapped, to be honest, and I was very angry. I felt I was tricked into doing something that I should never have done, and the reasons that were laid out for why I did it never made sense to me. I just felt like somebody took a period of my life -- a very precious period, 19 to 21 -- and destroyed it."


Principal albums (leader, key group member, or feature role):

  • Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble: New York Collage [1978.05.16; Anima 1002]
  • String Trio of New York: First String [1979.06; Black Saint 31] -- with James Emery and John Lindberg
  • Billy Bang: Distinction Without a Difference [1979.08.12; Hat Hut 1R04]
  • Billy Bang/John Lindberg Duo: Billy Bang/John Lindberg Duo [1979.09.29; Anima 1BL36]
  • Billy Bang Sextet: Sweet Space [1979.11.15; Anima 12741] -- featuring Frank Lowe; reissued as part of 8th Harmonic Breakdown 8005: 2005
  • String Trio of New York: Area Code 212 [1980.11.26; Black Saint 48]
  • Billy Bang: Changing Seasons [1980.06.28-12.27; Bellows 4]
  • Billy Bang and Charles Tyler: Live at Green Space [1981.03; Anima 2BT78]
  • Billy Bang Quintet: Rainbow Gladiator [1981.06.10-11; Soul Note 121016]
  • String Trio of New York: Common Goal [1981.11.12-13; Black Saint 58]
  • Billy Bang: Untitled Gift [1982.02.07; Anima 3BG9] -- reissued as part of 8th Harmonic Breakdown 8005: 2005
  • Billy Bang Quintet: Invitation [1982.04.13-14; Soul Note 1036]
  • Billy Bang: Outline No. 12 [1982.07; Celluloid 5004]
  • Billy Bang & Dennis Charles: Bangception [1982.08.29; Hat Musics 3512]
  • The Jazz Doctors: Intensive Care [1983.08.11; Cadillac 1011] -- with Frank Lowe, Rafael Garrett, Dennis Charles
  • String Trio of New York: Rebirth of a Feeling [1983.11.25-26; Black Saint 68]
  • Billy Bang: The Fire From Within [1984.09.19-29; Soul Note 121086]
  • String Trio of New York: Natural Balance [1986.04.01-02; Black Saint 98]
  • Billy Bang: Live at Carlos I [1986.11.23; Soul Note 121136]
  • Billy Bang Quartet: Valve No. 10 [1988.03.08-09; Soul Note 121186]
  • Billy Bang/Sun Ra: A Tribute to Stuff Smith [1992.09.20-22; Soul Note 121216]
  • Billy Bang/Craig Harris/Henry Threadgill: Hip Hop Be Bop [1993.01.23-25; ITM 1480]
  • William Hooker/Billy Bang Duo: Joy (Within)! [1994.06.19-22; Silkheart 147]
  • Billy Bang Quartet: Spirits Gathering [1996.02.28; CIMP 109]
  • Billy Bang's Forbidden Planet: Billy Bang's Forbidden Planet [1997; Masterplan 42007]
  • Billy Bang: Commandment (For the Sculpture of Alain Kirili) [1997.03.30; No More 5]
  • Billy Bang: Bang On! [1997.04.21-23; Justin Time 105]
  • Abbey Rader/Billy Bang: Echoes [1999.05; Abray 55]
  • Kahil El'Zabar/Billy Bang: Spirits Entering [1998.05.24-25; Delmark 533: 2001]
  • Billy Bang: Big Bang Theory [1999.08.20-21; Justin Time 135: 2000]
  • Frank Lowe/Billy Bang Quartet: One for Jazz [2001; No More 11]
  • Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath [2001.04.13-14; Justin Time 165]
  • F.A.B.: Transforming the Space [2003.02.17-18; CIMP 284] -- with Joe Fonda and Barry Altschul
  • Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections [2004.05.18-19; Justin Time 212: 2005]
  • Sirone Bang Ensemble: Configuration [2004.11.09; Silkheart 155: 2005]


  • Billy Bang: Sweet Space / Untitled Gift [1979.11.15, 1982.02.07; 8th Harmonic Breakdown 8005 (2CD): 2005]
  • Vision Fest: Vision Live [2002.05.23-06.02; Thirsty Ear 57131] -- 1 track
Total records in list above: 37 (16 in house, 2 from other sources).

Sideman performances:

  • The Music Ensemble: The Music Ensemble [1974.04.24, 1975.02.15; Roaratorio 3: 2001]
  • The Universal Jazz Symphonette: Presents Sound Craft '75 [1975.02.18; Anima 1001]
  • William Parker: Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace [1974.02, 1976.10.24; Centering 1001] -- appears on two tracks, one from 1974, the other from 1976
  • The Frank Lowe Orchestra: Lowe and Behold [1977.10; Musicworks 3002]
  • Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Eye on You [1980; About Time 1003]
  • Material: Memory Serves [1981; Celluloid 529812]
  • Kip Hanrahan: Coup de Tete [1980.11-1981.02; American Clave 1007] -- 1 track
  • John Lindberg Quintet: Dimension 5 [1981.02.27; Black Saint 120062: 1982]
  • Marilyn Crispell: Spirit Music [1981.05.15, 1982.01.13; Cadence Jazz 1015]
  • Marilyn Crispell: Live in Berlin [1982.11.04; Black Saint 69]
  • Kahil El'Zabar: Another Kind of Groove [1986.05.22; Sound Aspects 16]
  • Das Pferd: Kisses [1987; ITM 942.430: 1988] -- one track
  • Booty Collins: What's Bootsy Doin'? [Columbia 44107: 1988] -- 1 track
  • Sun Ra: A Night in East Berlin/My Brothers the Wind and Sun No. 9 [1986.06, 1988.01; Leo 149] -- cited by AMG and PG, but not in Bang discography; dates uncertain
  • Sun Ra: Hidden Fire [1988.01.29; Saturn 13088/12988] -- could this be the source of Leo 149?
  • Detail: Less More [1989.05.08; Circulasione Totale 909089] -- guest with Kent Carter-Frode Gjerstad-John Stevens group
  • William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Flowers Grow in My Room [1994.02-1994.07; Centering 1002]
  • Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Big Cliff [1994.09.03; Delmark 477]
  • Ozay: Antiquated Love [1994.06.01, 1995.03.09-10; Basic 50004] -- 1 track
  • Kip Hanrahan: A Thousand Nights and a Night (Shadow Nights) [1994.07-1996.06; American Clave 1042] -- 1 track
  • D.D. Jackson: Paired Down, Volume 1 [1996.11.30-12.02; Justin Time 99] -- 1 track
  • D.D. Jackson: Paired Down, Volume 2 [1996.11.30-12.02; Justin Time 104] -- 1 track
  • Rader Schwarz Group: The Spirit Inside Us [1998.05.07; Timbre 7] -- with Bang, Ed Schuller, Zam Johnson [1]
  • Sonicphonics featuring Billy Bang: Exploded Views [1999.02; No Wave 10] -- Bang appears on 5 tracks, 45:05
  • Kahil El'Zabar Tri-Factor: The Power [1999.07.26-27; CIMP 205]
  • Kahil El'Zabar Tri-Factor: If You Believe [2000.04.24-25; 8th Harmonic Breakdown 80004]
  • William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook [2002.05; Thirsty Ear 57133: 2003]
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Experience [2003.03.13-15; Justin Time 160: 2004]
  • Ahmed Abdullah's Ebonic Tones: Tara's Song [2004.05.10; TUM 9]
  • Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Live at the River East Art Center [2004.12.18; Delmark 566: 2005]
  • David Taylor-Steve Swell Quintet: Not Just . . . [2005.01.05-06; CIMP 321]


  • Conjure (w/Kip Hanrahan and David Murray)
  • Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio featuring Billy Bang: Big M: A Tribute to Malachi Favors (Delmark)
Total records in list above: 68 (25 in house, 2 from other sources).

A Billy Bang Mini-CG

Here's a quick rundown of the Billy Bang albums I'm familiar with. This covers about half of what I would cover if I had everything to choose from, with most of the spottiness in the early years. Among the missing are four of five String Trio of New York albums, two albums on Soul Note, several self-released items on Amina, his early Dennis Charles duo Bangception, more work with Kahil El'Zabar, a CIMP Spirits Gathering, bass duos with John Lindberg and William Hooker, his Forbidden Planet project, more sidework (Frank Lowe, Marilyn Crispell, Sun Ra, Ronald Shannon Jackson, others), a recent David Taylor-Steve Swell project where he's one of three strings behind the trombones, and so forth.

String Trio of New York: First String (1979, Black Saint): This has come to be viewed as bassist John Lindberg's group, although guitarist James Emery has also remained a constant. But over 26 years the violinists have shuffled in and out: Billy Bang, Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Diane Monroe, Rob Thomas. Here on their first album, each member wrote one piece, with Lindberg's sweeping "East Side Suite" filling up one LP side, while Bang and Emery split the other side. Bang's piece makes me wonder how much he had listened to East Asian violin, as it already evinces the distinctive sonority of the East. B+

John Lindberg Quintet: Dimension 5 (1981 [1982], Black Saint): The String Trio of New York bassist expands his pallette, working with Hugh Ragin on trumpet and Marty Ehrlich on alto sax and flute. The pieces are complex and abstract -- take some attention to follow, and don't always cohere. Bang is impressive on his solos, helpful otherwise. B+

Billy Bang Quintet: Rainbow Gladiator (1981, Soul Note): Not his debut, but in many ways his coming out party. Charles Tyler and Michelle Rosewoman compete for front-line space, and the interplay is exhilarating more often than not. A-

Billy Bang: Sweet Space/Untitled Gift (1979-82 [2005], 8th Harmonic Breakdown, 2CD): Two early albums reflecting the New York loft scene. The first is a septet with three horns up front, parrying off simple vamps with featured Frank Lowe the main threat. Bang takes a couple of turns with the horns, but mostly fills in. The second album is a quartet with Don Cherry on pocket trumpet. The smaller group leaves Bang much more space, and his tone and attack have become much more distinctive. Both records are exhilarating. A-

Billy Bang Quartet: Valve No. 10 (1988 [1991], Soul Note): "September 23rd" is one of Bang's most striking forays into spoken word, with its fractured jazz background at one point breaking into a chant of "a love supreme." Sirone sounds big on bass. Frank Lowe sounds restrained, like he's working inside the tradition rather than trying to knock it down -- one of his tastiest performances. Dennis Charles is as steady as ever. "Bien-Hoa Blues" has a bit of Vietnam in it. A-

Billy Bang With Sun Ra, John Ore, Andrew Cyrille: A Tribute to Stuff Smith (1992 [1993], Soul Note): A rare piece of repertory in Bang's discography. It's interesting to think of Smith as the mainstream counterpart to Leroy Jenkins in Bang's background, but he came to Smith later, possibly through the pianist here. Not breathtaking, but certainly a delight. A-

Billy Bang: Commandment (For the Sculpture of Alain Kirili) (1997, No More): A solo showcase for a gallery opening. The cover photos show him standing in the midst of Kirili's abstract thigh-high sculptures, like he's serenading midgets. Lack of a drummer leaves him ambling a bit, but his radical deconstruction of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" is memorable, and his introductions are disarming. B

Billy Bang: Bang On! (1997, Justin Time): Some standards ("Sweet Georgia Brown," "Yesterdays," "Willow Weep for Me") to go with Sun Ra and a batch of originals, all played with formidable intensity. No horns, nothing to detract from the violin except D.D. Jackson's rough-hewn piano. A-

Rader Schwarz Group: The Spirit Inside Us (1998, Timbre): Abbey Rader is a drummer who developed in the SoHo lofts before heading to Europe, where he hitched a ride in Gunter Hampel's big band. Gunter Schwarz is a tenor saxophonist with no other credits that I'm aware of, but he matches up well with Rader. Zam Johnson contributes some electronic squelch to go with Ed Schuller's bass and Bang's violin. It all makes for a nicely balanced, somewhat understated set of free jazz. B+

Kahil El'Zabar/Billy Bang: Spirits Entering (1998 [2001], Delmark): A duo with the Chicago omnipercussionist, whose everyday-from-everywhere beats form a fascinating backdrop. Bang has played with El'Zabar frequently since 1994's Big Cliff, but has rarely enjoyed so much space, and responds with touching eloquence. A-

Billy Bang: Big Bang Theory (1999 [2000], Justin Time): This may be the least avant group Bang has worked with -- Curtis Lundy and Cody Moffett are pros who mostly lean toward hard bop, while unknown pianist Alexis Hope sounds forthright without betraying any particular predelictions. The song selection tries out various directions without settling on any one. Short takes of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "One for Jazz" -- Bang's poem for his longtime drummer Dennis Charles -- are more lushly orchestrated than they are elsewhere in Bang's oeuvre. But the one that comes together strongest is "Little Sunflower," the closer penned by Freddie Hubbard. So hard bop wins out in the end. B+

Abbey Rader/Billy Bang: Echoes (1999, Abray): Rader gets top billing because this came out on his label. Bang wrote all but one of the songs, and leads throughout -- even recites his poem for Dennis Charles. Still, the drums help to pace and steady the violinist, and they add the echoes of the title. B+

Frank Lowe/Billy Bang Quartet: One for Jazz (2001, No More): A quarter century past their initial collaborations, two years before Lowe's death, this is a group at home with itself, playing music that only outsiders might view as on the edge. So much of their personalities come through in the music that it's a rare pleasure just to kick back and listen. A-

Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001, Justin Time): Bang writes, "This project has been in my mind for at least thirty years. . . . At night, I would experience severe nightmares of death and destruction, and during the day, I lived a kind of undefined ambiguous daydream." Bang did a year stretch in Vietnam, in infantry, out in the boondocks, a black man killing yellow men for the delusions of some white men in Washington. Given all this background, I suppose the Far East vamp of "Yo! Ho Chi Minh Is in the House" can be pretty spooky. Certainly, it doesn't take much imagination to be creeped out by "TET Offensive." Bang's violin has always been haunted by an oriental tone, but here it comes into its own, and he works it hard. Aside from Bang, the key person here is conductor Butch Morris, who holds a large group together in tight formation. The record of a lifetime. A

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook (2002 [2003], Thirsty Ear): The program here is a new set of Parker pieces based on reminiscences -- dressing for church, watching children in colorful clothes. There's remarkable music throughout, interesting rhythms, striking phasing between bass and violin. Parker's intro to "Holiday for Flowers" is a good example of his virtuosity, but Bang's violin stars throughout. This may be the single best example of his sound and dynamics. A

F.A.B. (Fonda-Altschul-Bang): Transforming the Space (2003, CIMP): His fans have been known to tout this trio record as the real, unadulterated Billy Bang, and they have a point, up to a point: this trio is a typical jazz showcase for Bang's work, especially as an improviser. This is also a strong outing for Barry Altschul and Joe Fonda, although CIMP's finicky audiophile mix can make it tricky to get the volume right to bring out the details in Fonda's bass. A-

Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections (2004 [2005], Justin Time): Second installment to what's now been reconceived as a trilogy. The music is more open, relaxed, generous than on its precedessor -- the contrast opens up a broader vista of Vietnam than the necessarily limited view seen by US soldiers. Several pieces are reworked Vietnamese traditionals, and two musicians are Vietnamese-Americans: Co Boi Nguyen sings on three pieces, and Nhan Thanh Ngo plays dan tranh (related to the dulcimer). A-

Ahmed Abdullah's Ebonic Tones: Tara's Song (2004 [2005], TUM): Four of five musicians here are Sun Ra alumni, including Bang, who shines on his solos and fills in otherwise. The odd man out is Alex Harding on baritone sax. Abdullah plays robust trumpet and sings two Sun Ra lyrics, plus a note perfect "Iko Iko" that appears out of nowhere to close. A-

Sirone Bang Ensemble: Configuration (2004 [2005], Silkheart): A live recording from CBGB's in New York, the sound a bit thin and hollow, the applause real but hardly rapturous -- not a real jazz venue, I guess. But the pairing of the Revolutionary Ensemble bassist with violinist Bang was meant to generate lots of friction, and for good measure they brought along Charles Gayle, who for once blows within the limits of his name, as opposed to his usual hurricane force. Perhaps in honor of the venue, there's a certain rockishness to their approach. In particular, "Freedom Flexibility" works a call-and-response motif where straight lines are answered freely. Don't know where they found drummer Tyshawn Sorey, but he has a blast. A-

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Live at the River East Art Center (2004 [2005], Delmark): Bang guests with the trio in this remembrance of late-member Malachi Favors (Yosef Ben Israel fills the empty slot), and adds cutting counterpoint to Ari Brown's tenor sax. As usual, I could do without El'Zabar's singing (let alone his preaching). B+

Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe: Above & Beyond (2003 [2007], Justin Time): The fire-breathing tenor saxophonist was down to one lung here, so out of breath by the end of the gig the promoter wanted to call an ambulance. Lowe died a few months later, leaving this as his last testament. All upbeat, with hard piano and swinging fiddle. Lowe makes up in clarity what he lacks in volume, his pleasure staving off the pain. A-

The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity) The two multi-part suites are hard to gauge as Egyptology, but their depth of feeling are palpable. Billy Bang's violin carries most of the load, the backdrop for Bryan Carrott's eccentric vibes and Campbell's avant-twisted trumpet -- shades of Gillespie moving ever deeper into African myth. The closing "Sunset on the Nile" is lighter and gentler, the river of life. A-

Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2005 [2010], TUM): Back from his second tour of Vietnam, wherein he found peace in transcendent musical fusion, the violinist reflects on the dawn of apocalypse, Hiroshima 1945. Even there, the chill gradually gives way to the fire of one of his trademark riffs, then segues into another from Compay Segundo. Joy all around, from Stuff Smith well beyond Sun Ra, with James Zollar's tart trumpet challenging Bang's razor-sharp violin. A

Billy Bang/Bill Cole (2009 [2011], Shadrack): Cole plays exotic instruments -- digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute, shenai -- ranging from deep-throated background to even squeaker than Bang's violin. Takes off slow, wanders a lot, has moments of interest. Bang pays close attention but never really takes charge. B+