Art Davis and Billy Bang Duo
The Jazz Gallery, September 14, 2003:
I come to The Jazz Gallery at 290 Hudson Street in Manhattan, for the first time, at the invitation of Carolyn Owerka. The doors open promptly at 8:45 P.M. I immediately see Carolyn who has me on the guest list for tonight’s performance. Thank you Carolyn. The Jazz gallery is a well-regarded, cozy and intimate jazz venue, discretely located between Spring and Dominick Streets in Soho. The shows are held upstairs on the second floor, which also serves as jazz cultural center providing exhibition and performance space for work in the arts - visual, literary and musical - that embraces jazz as its primary focus. I sit in the front row and move from stage right to stage left for a better camera angle. I meet Kevin who’s in the eight grade, plays violin, and is eagerly anticipating tonight’s show. He hopes to attend the 3rd Street High School to further his musical education. Carl who is very knowledgeable about jazz and weaves some extremely interesting stories about jazz history in New York City accompanies Kevin. I also meet a well-connected, friendly and supportive couple, Roberta and Richard and strike up a nice friendship with them.
At 9:22 P.M., Dr. Art Davis and Billy Bang are introduced. The first musical arrangement is, “Only Time Will Tell,” composed by Stuff Smith. The standup bass of Art Davis and violin of Billy Bang will perform unaccompanied all evening. The bass plays a straight walking figure with the violin complementing it with a sweet and clear melody line. Billy Bang embellishes the melody with cleverly conceived scale runs, well times high note crescendos and double time stroking with his bow. Art’s bass solo is relaxed with selectively spacious quarter note scales, showcasing nice slide notes and chord melodies. Art demonstrates carefully conceived note selection leading up to high note crescendos. Billy Bang exhibits strong mastery of the violin as the melody sings and swings.
Song two is, “Everybody’s Doin’ It,” composed by Art Davis. Art comments: “I play un-amplified; there’s nothing like the pure sound of the bass.” The staccato unison intro continues to a strong bottom and sweet melodic development on the violin. Art gets out the bow for gorgeous bass sustain notes, featuring a creatively dissonant chord melody. Art has incredible control of his bass, with the bow and superior note choices. The bass and violin cleverly complement each other in harmonic counterpoint. As the bass hugs the bottom, the violin flourishes above and exhibits superior chops, triplets and double time bowing with such natural ease. Art has such a genuine and endearingly warm smile as Billy solos and brings out the melodic charm of his instrument. They return to the staccato form of the intro which leads to a playful ending.
The next composition, “Lonnie’s Lament,” is from John Coltrane. The tempo is slow and deliberate, with the bass on the bottom and the violin notes very thoughtfully and carefully chosen. The musical mood is sincere, deep and serious, building cautiously and delicately. There are nice use of rests for space and emphatic musical effect. Billy Bang demonstrates gorgeous embellishment of the melodic form, going outside and inside, building to an emotional crescendo attack level. He executes ferocious staccato attack with the double motion of his bow. Billy further demonstrates incredible virtuoso control of melodic flow, pushing the musical envelop with crescendos and staccato double time note execution. Art’s bass solo is well conceived, select and delicately crafted, demonstrating keen and superior musical instinct, knowledge and prowess. He has complete mastery of the instrument. Art rhythmically taps the bass with his bow for a very unusual and creative effect. Billy combines finger hammering with his bow on the violin, showcasing double strokes back and forth to amazing crescendos of shrieking high notes.
The fourth musical entry is, “Moments For The Kiamia,” composed by Billy Bang. This is from his CD entitled, “VIETNAM the aftermath.” The bass intro is deep, slow and meaningful. The violin is immediately sad. The melody is hypnotic, captivating, eerie and serious. The picture painted by the arrangement is intriguingly penetrating, and explicitly conveys a very mournful musical expression, spotlighting high note crescendos on the violin that seem like bees surrounding a flower. The musical mood is somber and heavy. The bass carries the musical thought as Billy picks the violin in a very staccato manner. Oriental overtones are conveyed through this passage of the song, with unison picking of both instruments. Art bows an amazing bass solo completely off the top of the fret board, executing amazing high notes and such command of the instrument with his fingers almost touching the bow! Art is completely relaxed and bemused at any risk he takes. The entire song is melancholy, solemn, reflective, somber, dark and mysterious. This is clearly the most emotionally moving piece of the set.
The last song of the set is, “We Two,” by Art Davis. Art describes this arrangement as avant-garde. Art and Billy play a unison harmonic introduction that is slow and deliberate. Art plays the bow on his bass as Billy flourishes madly on the melodic expression. Both Art and Billy soon pick their instruments with random, rhythmically emotional outbursts. Billy is picking chord melodies, featuring complete improvisation, as he is tapping the bow. Billy attacks the violin exuberantly. He plays incredibly extreme sounds on the violin. He actually gets an electronic sound out of the violin, without any electronic effects. Billy achieves incredible high notes squealing and screeching simultaneously. Art and Billy execute a beautiful answer/response passage, each working off each other’s licks. The duo exhibits intense interaction and amazing interplay. The dynamic level goes way up high then back down again, in a complete team effort.
Dr. Art Davis and Billy Bang put on a memorable performance here tonight. The audience shows clear appreciation by a tremendous standing ovation of applause. I talk at length with Roberta and Richard. We all agree this was a very, VERY special show! I get a great opportunity to meet Dr. Davis and pose for a picture with the great jazz heavyweight.
I talk to Carolyn Owerka and thank her again for inviting me down here tonight. I get a chance to meet again with David Adler who writes for Downbeat magazine. I also meet briefly with Linda Welikson from WKCR jazz radio. She is very positive and friendly. I leave elated, excited and inspired by this rare and sensational musical experience. TREMENDOUS!
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