Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble | Black Man’s Blues – New York Collage | No Business Records

Billy Bang – violin, poetry, bells, shaker, percussion | Bilal Abdur Rahman – tenor and soprano saxes, bull horn, percussion | Henry Warner* – alto sax, bells, shaker, percussion | William Parker – bass | Khuwana Fuller* – congas | Rashid Bakr – drums

This release contains never earlier released Survival Ensemble session from 29th May, 1977 recorded at A Day of Solidarity with Soweto in New York City. Also a 40 pages booklet with essay written by Ed Hazell about the Survival Ensemble, original flyers, photos, etc.

Tracklist CD 1 “Black Man’s Blues”: 1. Spoken introduction (1:07)  2. Albert Ayler/Know Your Enemy (19:27) 3. Ganges/Enchantment/Tapestry (William Parker) (30:47) 4. Black Man Blues (Bilal Abdur Rahman)(18:27)

 

Tracklist CD 2* “New York Collage”1. Nobody Hear the Music the Same Way (Dedicated to John Coltrane) (Billy Bang) 12’17” 2. For Josie Part II (Billy Bang) 10’28” 3. Illustration (Poetry written by Billy Bang, music – Bilal A. Rahman) 8’22” 4. Subhanallah (Bilal A. Rahman) 14’35”

CD 1 was recorded 29th May 1977 at A Day in Solidarity with Soweto: A Fund Raiser, Harlem Fight-Back, 1 East 125th St., New York. This session has never been issued before. CD 2 was recorded live at Columbia University Radio WKCR 89.9 FM 16th May, 1978 Recording Engineer – Taylor Storer. Assistant Engineer – Jim Defillippis. Edited by Peter Kuhn / All songs published by GHAZAL MUSIC. Originally released on ANIMA/RECORDS in 1978. Remastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Producer – Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

The late, great violinist’s first two albums

— the first so obscure I missed it when I assembled a discography for my 2005 Voice piece on Bang. A quartet for the first record, with Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor and soprano sax, William Parker on bass, and Rashid Bakr on drums. Rahman, an old friend of Bang’s, picked up Islam in prison and recorded reluctantly but more often than not his cutting and slashing is terrific here. Both albums are hit and miss, with bits of spoken word spouting political critique — “when the poor steal, it’s called looting; when the rich steal, it’s called profit” is one turn of phrase. Second album adds Henry Warner on alto sax and Khuwana Fuller on congas — Warner’s another player who shows up on rare occasions but always makes a big impression. Way back when I would probably have hedged my grade, seeing each album as promising but half-baked, but now they’re indisputable pieces of history — and not just because Bang and Parker went on to have brilliant careers. Also note that the label in Lithuania that rescued them cared enough to provide a 36-page booklet on the era and this remarkable music. — Tom Hull

Billy Bang | Moers, Germany 1980 | Photo by Gérard Rouy

Billy Bang | Moers, Germany 1980 | Photo by Gérard Rouy

Violinist Billy Bang

made his recording debut as a leader with the Survival Ensemble, the first working band he ever led, on New York Collage in 1979. Bang, saxophonists Bilal Abdur Rahman and Henry Warner, bassist William Parker, and percussionists Rashid Bakr and Khuwana John Fuller played incendiary free jazz more clearly indebted to the New York avant-garde of the preceding decade than any album Bang would record again. The music’s urgency and passion arose from the exhilaration of artistic self-discovery shared by everyone in the group, and the intensity of their need to express their feelings. The albums really are a loft era classic. Proudly flaunting its New York roots, it insists that music based on the innovations of Coltrane, Ayler, Taylor, could grow in new directions, absorb new influences, and engage contemporary political realities. — Ed Hazel

Billy Bang | Moers, Germany 1980 | Photo Gérard Rouy

Billy Bang | Moers, Germany 1980 | Photo Gérard Rouy

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.– Tim Niland

Double CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

€ 21.00
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LP version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

€ 24.00
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2 thoughts on “Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble | Black Man’s Blues – New York Collage | No Business Records

  1. With Black Man’s Blues / New York Collage, the Lithuanian based No Business label presents another thrilling installment in its invaluable documentation of the New York loft jazz of the 1970s, following on from 2010’s acclaimed Muntu Recordings Box and Commitment: The Complete Recordings 1980-1983. Featured artist this time out is the late violinist Billy Bang, who died of lung cancer in April 2011, while this issue was in preparation. Like its predecessors, this double CD presentation comes with an attractive and informative booklet penned by the insightful Ed Hazell.

    Bang stretches out on two live performances with his Survival Ensemble in a package uniting his first date as a group leader with a previously unreleased session from a radio broadcast some 12 months earlier. Both sets spotlight the youthful rhythm section of bassist William Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr (now known once more as Charles Downs) as well as little known saxophonist Bilal Abdur Rahman.

    What we have here is a vital slice of loft jazz history. While the visceral excitement pegs this as fire music, none of the pieces are straightforward blowing vehicles. It’s clear that the Survival Ensemble was dedicated to collectively examining novel structures for its expression, and most of the time, Bang’s violin and Rahman’s tenor are heard in exuberant unison, especially on the first disc. Frequent recitations announce an overt political agenda of black nationalism and post-Vietnam radicalization, though it didn’t play such an explicit role for much longer in Bang’s oeuvre.

    Bang’s rhythmic drive is much in evidence, though he had yet to unleash the soaring melodic swing which came to define his work over the years. Consequently, high energy is the most prominent aspect of his playing, with pyrotechnics and hypnotic dissonance never far away. Rahman, who soon after disappeared from view, reveals himself to be a combustive presence with a strong sense of line and dynamics, whether gruffly insistent or passionately overblowing. Even this early in his career, Parker demonstrates an unrivalled ability to fuel long form improvisations with a stream of non-repeating patterns and expressive bow-work, while Bakr forms a responsive foil for the bassist and maintains an undemonstrative but effective roiling undercurrent.

    Although each track on Black Man’s Blues includes a poem, either from Rahman or Bang, there is more than enough incendiary excitement to keep the most poetry averse jazz fan happy. On “Albert Ayler/Know Your Enemy,” after the violinist’s spoken word introduction over bass and percussion, tenor saxophone and violin develop a simple staccato line into a high octane interchange, with Parker bowing furiously to an intense crescendo. Yet more coruscating interludes grace the lengthy “Ganges/Enchantment/Tapestry,” the highlight of the set, which comprises a suite of compositions by the bassist, starting with overlapping duets for first Rahman’s thoughtful tenor and Bakr’s rumbling drums, then spidery arco bass and pizzicato fiddle. Both Rahman and Bang get a chance to shine separately on the title track after some theatrical sermonizing, before a screaming conclusion. Though raw and unvarnished, with some slightly raggedy unisons, this is heady stuff and a real find.

    Out of print for many years, New York Collage makes a welcome appearance on CD. Recorded in May 1978, the Survival Ensemble was already tighter, in spite of expansion to a sextet with the addition of Henry Warner’s alto saxophone and Khuwana Fuller’s congas. “Nobody Hears The Music The Same Way (Dedicated to John Coltrane)” starts with a theme comprising a sequence of repeated motifs, typical of the time, before opening into a swirling free for all, a series of solos and an eventual return to the opening gambit. “For Josie Part II” suggests that the lady in question might have a stern, even dour demeanor, before the drifting soundscape metamorphoses into a seething brew. “Illustration” boasts the only reading of the session, with Bang declaiming over a bass groove and riffing horns. Rahman’s “Subhanallah” makes for a rabble rousing closer, with a wailing mass of feral horns and see-sawing bass. Bang was never quite this wild on disc again, making this double dose a piquant memorial to the departed violinist, as well as yet another fascinating chronicle of a largely unsung era.

  2. The late violinist/bandleader/new jazz luminary Billy Bang had a lengthy and fruitful career creatively, with a discography of seminal recordings that are ripe for re-evaluation. As if to extend that legacy, No Business Records recently issued a 2-CD set (NBCD 30-31) covering two very solid and moving sessions, one previously unavailable, the other out-of-print. It’s Maestro Bang with his Survival Ensemble, 1977, and it’s entitled Black Man’s Blues/New York Collage. The first session is a live appearance in Harlem in support of Solidarity with Soweto, May 1977. There are effective head melodies, recitation of some free-thinking poetry, and heated collective and individual soloing from Billy on violin, Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor, William Parker, bass, and Rashid Bakr, drums. The second disk gives us “New York Collage,” an extended WKCR NYC studio session from a few weeks earlier, which adds Henry Warner on alto and Khuwana Fuller on congas.

    This is a group with a recognizable sound, in part due to the distinctive styles of Bang, Rahman and Parker, in part because of the overall group dynamic and the thrust of the rhythm section as a whole. It captures the sound of a great band during a less self-conscious phase of the music. And it gives you some prime Bang violin and Parker bass.

    It provides me with a much greater appreciation for what Billy was doing in this period and seems to me one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of his development. It is essential Billy Bang, I think.

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