Billy Bang’s New York Collage


Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble
New York Collage
Anima : 1978

BB, violin, bells, shaker, percussion; Bilal Abdur Rahman, tenor sax, soprano sax, bull horn, percussion; Henry Warner, alto sax, bells, shaker, percussion;  William Parker, bass; Khuwana Fuller, conga; Rashid Bakr, drums.

We’re proud to introduce a new regular feature here at Destination: OUT – our LOST TONES series. Once a month (or so), we’ll be sharing tracks from hyper-rare recordings that aren’t available anywhere else on the web. Or even IRL! These treasures are courtesy of George Scala, who runs the invaluable Free Jazz Research site. He’s generously shared these recordings from his amazing archive so that they can be enjoyed by more than just collectors.

As always, we’re primarily concerned about the quality of the music itself. Rarity by itself means nothing – many things have rightfully been consigned to the dustbin of history. The music in this series will consist of albums that we unequivocally love and are excited to share. These records deserve a second chance and a far wider audience.

This coming Monday is Billy Bang’s birthday and we’re pleased to offer this post as a celebration of his exceptional music. He’s also been battling cancer, as announced at this year’s Vision Festival, so we offer this along with our best wishes for his full recovery.

It seems especially fitting to share these tracks from New York Collage, which was Bang’s first album as a leader and the first to feature his own compositions. It was released by Anima, a tiny label with only a handful of titles to their credit, all of them fascinating and all of them featuring Billy Bang.

Recorded live at Columbia University on May 16, 1978, the Survival Ensemble is a showcase for Bang’s talents as a soloist, leader, and composer. The stark album cover of Bang perched in a seemingly derelict building evokes the gritty feel of 1970s New York City, though the music inside is far more colorful. Although his work would mature, becoming more complex, the trademarks of his instrumental sound and compositional acumen are in place from the jump.

The Coltrane-tribute “Nobody Hear the Music The Same Way” opens with a lyrically keening solo violin passage. The piece alternates between solo sections, compositional segments where the group plays the head in unison, and headlong tumbles into manic group soloing. Dig how Bang alternates between richly layered playing and assaultive sawing. The piece is a bit raw but still thrilling. Give it a few spins to fully appreciate its riches.

There doesn’t appear to be a “For Josie Part I” anywhere in Bang’ s discography, but “Part II” stands on its own just fine. The piece is moodier and builds slowly through several unison sections whose loveliness is nicely counterpointed by the shambling percussion. There’s a stately, almost new classical feel to the dark textures, organically shifting ambiance, and moaning strings. Haunting stuff.

The band acquits itself well throughout. Its most notable member is William Parker, who often played with Bang during this period. In fact, Bang’s first appearance on record was on William Parker’s debut Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace in 1974. Saxophonist Henry Warner also played on that date. Strangely, after this record, he vanishes, not reappearing until the 2003 Vision Festival. And this seems to have been the only recording for the other saxophonist, Bilal Abdur Rahman.

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For some Billy Bang music that you can buy, don’t sleep on his latest release Prayer for Peace on the Finnish TUM Records label. It’s a sprawling, ambitious ensemble record that traffics in unabashed beauty and swing. The adventurous arrangements form the architectural underpinning of the music and are easy to overlook, but the fiery solos are unmistakable. An understated and quietly powerful record.

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For an announcement of a huge new venture for the site on Monday.

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