Billy Bang | William Parker | Medicine Buddha | No Business Records

Billy Bang – violin, thumb piano | William Parker – bass, shakuhashi, dousn gouni

All compositions by Billy Bang (Ghazal Music, ASCAP) and William Parker (Centering Music, BMI), except Eternal Planet and Buddha’s Joy by William Parker. Recorded live at The Rubin Museum Of Art, New York, on the 8th May, 2009. Concert produced by Tim McHenry. Photos by by Peter Gannushkin / DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET | Mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Produced by William Parker and Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

Tracklist: 1. Medicine Buddha [22’30”] 2. Sky Song [6’15”] 3. Bronx Aborigines [3’42”] 4. Eternal Planet (Dedicated to Leroy Jenkins) [14’22”] 5. Buddha’s Joy [5’43”]

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Billy Bang | Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Reflections on Billy Bang

Billy Bang was a brilliant human being, always much more than himself, especially when he surrendered to his true calling—that of musician, one who transforms music into magic, dancing instead of walking, jumping instead standing still. Billy Bang was an American original, an original musician, an organic person who had tapped into the river of sound and was riding on a boat drenched in blues-soul-funk and space.

Billy is gone and unfortunately for the world there will never ever be another person like him. His life was not filled with joy, but he brought joy to life. Everyone who heard him play his violin throughout the world was moved and uplifted. When Billy played, he gave his all every time, always taking the music to the next dimension where beauty and truth and peace reside.

Billy was like a little big brother who was brave when he needed to be brave, bold and daring when he needed to be. Billy was a great basketball player; he had moves on the basketball court way before Magic Johnson. He also was very scholarly and meticulous about anything he approached in life, vulnerably open and honest.

I remember in the early ’70s I was living in the Claremont housing projects in the Bronx. Billy would come by and we would play and rehearse while my mother fixed dinner. We would eat and continue until late in the night, trying to figure out what music was. I felt proud walking though Claremont with a kindred spirit named Billy Bang.

When his son Ghazal was born I went to the hospital to visit the newborn baby and both father and son had halos around their heads; it was amazing. Later when Ghazal was a small boy, he threw some of his toys out the window of the projects on Avenue D where Billy was living at the time. Billy responded by writing a play with music based off of the event for Ghazel’s preschool class, composing some music and writing a script about the event. It was called “Popcorn’s Adventure.” So we went into his daycare classroom and performed this play and played the music. The skit had the kids laughing so hard their stomachs began to hurt. The humor and love that Billy Bang showed that day was tremendous. The teacher gave us juice and crackers and life was perfect.

Even though as was I was born and raised in the Bronx, I was a very serious and stiff guy. I needed some one to bring out my sense of humor. That person was Billy Bang. Billy showed me how to laugh and through that laughter to see life as the most serious thing there could be.

When the music came around it grabbed him and he was majestic, gentle, lyrical, and there was this eternal groove that never stopped. Even the most abstract sound he made was draped in the blues, pathos, and uplift. Billy Bang was filled with a fire, healing us as he healed himself. He played some music and lived to the fullest and fought to stay alive with undaunted optimism.

I am just happy I met and got to know him and play with him. I thank God for giving him to us for how ever long. He changed my life.

This duet concert we did at the Rubin was one of the last concerts we played together. I think it was a beautiful experience for all. — William Parker

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William Parker | Photo by Peter Gannushkin

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3 thoughts on “Billy Bang | William Parker | Medicine Buddha | No Business Records

  1. The beginning is an invocation, a zen-like drone, concentration and meditation, before Billy Bang’s violin tears William Parker’s arco bass into pieces – like a hurricane does it with flags that people forgot to bring down. “Medicine Buddha”, the title track of this album”, explores variations on this hypnotic arco drone, touching on Steve Reich’s minimal philosophy as well as on a steady groove and classic free jazz aberrations for more than 22 minutes – and Parker and Bang, these brothers in improvisation (until Bang lost his battle with lung cancer in 2011), pass the ball to each other with unerring certainty.

    Medicine Buddha documents one of their last collaborations at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York in the spring of 2009, the album is William Parker’s last good-bye for a lifelong friend (his liner notes are of the highest appreciation for the musician and the human being). In addition, Bang’s violin is both mournful, no matter what “abstract sound he made (it) was draped in the blues”, and joyous and vivid. Parker foils this sound with low and mumbling tones, once again you can literally feel how loud and pointed he can play (especially when he plucks).

    Both musicians can also be heard on other instruments (Bang on kalimba and Parker on dousn gouni on “Bronx Aborigines” and Parker also on shakuhachi on “Sky Song”) which give the performance a certain spiritual world music touch. What remains are two Parker compositions – “Eternal Planet”, a classic piece that pays tribute to the late violinist Leroy Jenkins and which indeed sounds like a Revolutionary Ensemble piece, and “Buddha’s Joy”, which builds on a call-and-response melody that could almost pass for a danceable composition.

    What’s so great about this music is the fact that you can literally listen to a friendship, to a deep emotional connection, to the contrasts of a dark and sombre bass and Bang’s violin soaring as high as it can to a single singing note. In its best moments the album is filled with absolute magic leaping off the strings, dynamic plucks, a vortex of overtones, and an enthusiastic commitment to sheer beauty.

  2. It is a sad truism to say that sometimes it takes someone’s passing before we understand what we have missed. That may be true of violinist, composer, bandleader Billy Bang, who has left us all too soon. Thankfully we have his music to appreciate via recordings. And perhaps that impressive body of work will enable his artistry to continue to gain wider recognition. An especially good, later recording is now available–in a series of live duets with the great William Parker, in turn one of the foundational avant bassists on the New York scene, an ever-energizing and innovative force.

    William and Billy held forth in May of 2009 at the Rubin Museum in New York. Fortunately the tapes were rolling and we now have it to fully appreciate again and again, as the CD Medicine Buddha (No Business CD 71).

    It shows both musician-artists at a genuine peak. Both are primed and extremely in tune with one another throughout. From the opening double bowing twosome and on into various adventurous avant improvisatory propulsions, there is no let-up in inspiration.

    Bang clearly benefits from the energy and inspiration of his long-time colleague Parker. He is on a roll throughout with the virtuoso playing he did so well when he was in the right setting. He is on fire.

    William sounds especially motivated on this set as well. He is in that untouchable place he can dwell in when everything gels. On bass he sets the pace for other bassists to emulate or match, and the truth is that not many can. But he sounds very appropriate on shakuhachi and the African, stringed dousn gouni, as well.

    It is a model of what a contemporary spontaneity can give the listener when the best exponents get the time and space to explore. Clearly the live setting and the general circumstances were especially favorable on that day.

    The two come through with some exemplary work. You don’t want to miss this one. Long live Billy Bang via recorded examples such as this. And long live Maestro Parker in his central presence today and in the years to come.

  3. Nobody reading this needs any introduction to these two marvelous improvisers. The ubiquitous bassist William Parker and the sorely-missed violinist Billy Bang always had such instant, kinetic synergy when they got together. And this date – a May 2009 hit at NYC’s Rubin Museum of Art – confirms that and more. It’s filled with absolute magic leaping off the strings, propulsive plucks, whorls of overtones, and always a commitment to deep melody. The long title track opens with a fulsome Parker drone and plaintive, soaring melody from Bang. These dark folk sensibilities always served as a kind of foundation for Bang’s music, even when not directly articulated. But when melody moved front and center, as is the case here, Bang could simply soar. Maybe some key to the kinetic something this music audibly possesses can be traced to Parker’s notion that the best improvising happens when the players simply listen to the universe. Certainly this concert has a kind of emotional gravity that makes sense of that notion. For those of you disinclined to such thinking, the music is abundant enough on its own terms. Parker continually adjusts the music’s tonal center, and his attack, creating a kind of oscillating effect that’s often hypnotic. The two of them sometimes play in a direct, linear fashion; Bang often gets down and grinds in the lower register, whipping up a fine froth and then soaring as high as he can to a single singing note. After a spell, the musicians make some instrumental changeups that prove compelling. Parker shifts to shakuhachi on “Sky Song,” and with Bang’s high-strung pizzicato it almost has the feel of Korean court music or something similar. On the brief “Bronx Aborigines,” Parker arpeggiates with such rapidity that it’s like he’s double-stopping, as Bang spools out counterlines on thumb piano. And “Eternal Planet” is a headlong plunge into sheer propulsive momentum, Bang just going for it in this tribute to fellow violinist Leroy Jenkins. What’s so great about this music is Bang’s and Parker’s ability to create such veritable tapestries but to continually imbue them with fresh detail, whether a slice of deep funk or a suggestive, woody detail. Fine stuff.

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