Bop and avant-garde violinist Billy Bang (birth name William Walker) is a veteran of the Vietnam war. Drafted in 1966, he served as an Army sergeant and squad leader, living in the jungles and rice paddies, taking his men on sweeps and offenses. Bang's Vietnam Reflections
is the second in an eventual series of three albums meant to explore the vast cultural landscape of Vietnam, while allowing Bang and his fellow players the opportunity to release pent-up passions that have haunted them for the last forty years.
Joining Bang's soul-searching effort are fellow Vietnam and New York City jazz scene veterans Curtis Lundy and John Hicks, percussionist Ron Brown, drummer Michael Carvin, and trumpeter Ted Daniels. Non-vet reed and flute men James Spaulding and Henry Threadgill round out the instrumentalists, and native-born Vietnamese musician and Julliard scholar Co Boi Nguyen provides vocals for the three traditional Vietnamese songs included on the CD.
Bang's originals (six out of nine tracks, the other three being Vietnamese folk songs) give the band members plenty of room to stretch out. Although the feel and time of Bang's compositions is rooted firmly in modern post-bop, his melody lines are constructed in a very Eastern fashion; his violin in unison with the other instruments adds to the exotic Oriental feel of this CD. It is also interesting to hear American jazz musicians explore traditional Vietnamese folk music with reverence and conviction.
The playing and soloing on this CD is solid, particularly the work of Bang, James Spalding, and John Hicks. Although it takes several musical turns into areas that may be unfamiliar, "Vietnam Reflections" is a challenging journey that will greatly reward the listener.