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By Lisa Boucher (Reviewer)
Vietnam: The Aftermath
Justin Time Records, 2001 (www.justin-time.com)
Over the past 26 years, jazz fiddler Billy Bang's hard-edged tone, soulful sense of swing and expressive style have enhanced over two dozen albums by top names in a variety of genres, from the blistering funk of Bootsy Collins to the intergalactic uproar of Sun Ra.
Drafted into the army following graduation, Billy was sent to Vietnam, an experience that profoundly affected his life. Returning home and radicalized, Billy became active in the anti-war movement, and by the late 60s had returned to music.
This recording is Billy's attempt to put into music his Vietnam experience. This is powerful, intense music made by premier musicians, most of whom happened to experience the war in Vietnam firsthand. Without words, with only sound, they manage to capture an intensity that cannot be expressed in mere words.
In the album's liner notes, Billy says:
For decades, I've lived constantly with my unwillingness to deliberately conjure up the pain of these experiences. At night, I would experience severe nightmares of death and destruction, and during the day, a kind of undefined ambiguous daydream. By allowing these awkward and unfathomable feelings to lie dormant in some deep dark place, I was able to tolerate my frankly vegetative way of living. It was preferable somehow - and safer - to let these monstrous thoughts embedded in my unconscious to remain in that state - inactive. This was the sad state of my life, which made it easy for me to seek an artificial comfort in drinking and drugs ...
... My immediate concerns were whether or not I was in fact strong and courageous enough to accept this challenge. The possibility of getting rid of the dark side that forever haunted me outweighed the pessimistic thoughts I had carried with me all those years. I knew I was faced with the monumental task of transforming my Vietnam experience, and all its attendant emotions, into a solid body of music. The overall sadness of losing close friends in combat is not something that many experience, and to write eloquently of my trials and tribulations, of growing from a boy of nineteen and becoming a man, a soldier, in that God-forsaken war, has been a supreme challenge.
This beautiful, ugly, haunting album is probably the best recording I've heard in years. Combining Asian modes with the vocabulary of American jazz, going from toe-tapping swing to what-in-the-HELL-is-THAT screaming fiddle sounds and back to the comfort zone again, Billy's CD has been in constant rotation on my player ever since it debuted last autumn, and I believe it deserves a good listen.
Lisa Boucher works as a musician in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
She is also the copy editor for The Veteran (but prefers the term "text wrangler").