Jazz Doctors – Intensive Care: Prescriptions Filled

Another set of Billy Bang and Frank Lowe's harmonically liberated treatments of standards and originals is added to the 1983 Intensive Care

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Billy Bang was a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War. Armed with just a flashlight and pistol his role was to engage and eliminate North Vietnamese soldiers underground. On coming home to New York, Bang was haunted by his war-time experiences and turned to the violin he’d learnt to play as a child. He co-founded the avant-garde String Trio of New York in the 70s, performed with Sun Ra’s Arkestra in the 80s and went on to play in a variety of other jazz ensembles.

One of these was the Jazz Doctors. Their album, Intensive Care, was recorded following a UK tour in 1983 and is now issued on CD for the first time. The second part of the CD comprises tracks that were intended to be released on a follow-up LP entitled Prescriptions Filled. It didn’t see the light of day due to technical problems but half of the tapes survived and the remastered sound quality is crystal clear.

Alongside Bang both albums feature spiritual jazz saxophonist Frank Lowe, who played with Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane in the late 60s. Bang and Lowe are backed on the first album by bassist Rafael Garrett (John Coltrane, Muhal Abrams, Roland Kirk) and drummer Dennis Charles (Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Giuffre, Archie Shepp). They’re replaced in the second by Wilbur Morris (Pharoah Sanders, Horace Tapscott, Rashied Ali) and Thurman Barker (Billy Eckstine, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill).

The violin / saxophone front line produces an unusual, occasionally chaotic sound and at first I wasn’t that enamoured. This is mainly because the violin is played so intensely it can seem shrill to unaccustomed ears. However, after listening a few times the music definitely grows on you.

Some numbers are more melodic than others – in this regard one of the highlights is Butch Morris’s Spooning. The band revises material by Jackie McLean, Rashied Ali and Ornette Coleman in Intensive Care, with Bang and Lowe each contributing an original composition. Following Bang’s Suite For Gamma in Prescriptions Filled, the Jazz Doctors deliver a colourful, idiosyncratic take on numbers by Monk/Hawkins, Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.

The CD comes with Val Wilmer’s original liner notes for Intensive Care, photos of the band and new notes by her for Prescriptions Filled.

Discography
[Intensive Care] (1) Little Melonae; Ballad With One L; Spooning; Loweology; Blood On The Cross; Lonely Woman; [Prescriptions Filled] (2) Suite For Gamma Pt 1; Suite For Gamma Pt; I Mean You!; Mr Syms; Pent Up House (79.59)
Billy Bang (v); Frank Lowe (ts) with: (1) Rafael Garrett (b); Dennis Charles (d). London, November 1983. (2) Wilbur Morris (b); Thurman Barker (d, p). London, October 1984.
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