JJ 12/83: Billy Bang, 100 Club

Forty years ago Barry McRae saw the American violinist combine powerful theme statements with free-ranging improvisation. First published in Jazz Journal December 1983

Billy Bang (vn), Frank Lowe (ts), Wilber Morris (b), Thurman Barker (d) at 100 Club, London, 1984. Photo courtesy Matthew Wright

Billy Bang is currently leading a group which Rafael Garrett reports is called the Jazz Doctors. At the 100 Club they certainly dispensed a therapeutic brand of jazz medicine, pick-you-up music that had a near capacity crowd demanding more.

The mercurial Bang chose his programme well, spicing his own ankle-loosening ‘dance tunes’ with a light hearted C. Jam and a stunning reading of Lonely Woman. Few musicians successfully rebuild Ornette Coleman’s classic miniature but Bang, in particular, breathed solace into the poor lady’s world and shone a little light into her soul.

He was, in fact, in ebullient mood throughout, again combining his talent as a theme developer with his natural skill as a free excursionist. Frank Lowe was something of a contrast, taking the more conservative route and sounding more convincing when he was in touch with the themes. His spare phrasing at times made us think of him as a Prez update and he threw in some judicious honks to support the theory.

Garrett refused to take a background place and contributed, not only to the progress of the ensemble parts, but also to the band’s harmonic twists and to its solo strength. Dennis Charles swung them all effortlessly, with a brand of modern drumming that had its roots in the Catlett era, and he completed a quartet that went into the Cadillac studios on the following day, hopefully to reproduce this impressive form.