Though a revelation—simultaneously his most ambitious recording and his most straight-ahead—Billy Bang’s
Vietnam: The Aftermath (2002) told only half the story: It surveyed the Asian influences that came into
jazz concurrent with Vietnam but limited itself to the American point of view. The most affecting cuts on the sequel are those where
scrappy, outward-bound fiddler (and Vietnam vet) Bang interacts with Co Boi Nguyen’s voice and Nhan Thanh Ngo’s dan tranh (Vietnamese
dulcimer). Vietnam: Reflections has plenty else to recommend it. Nothing Bang has done prepares you for his keening balladry on “Doi Moi” and “Waltz of the Water Puppets,” both derived from traditional Vietnamese material. Altoist and flutist James Spaulding isn’t heard nearly enough these days, nor is trumpeter Ted Daniel—both are in top form here, and Spaulding’s quote from “Moody’s Mood for Love” on “Lock ‘n’ Load” makes sense emotionally as well as musically. Pianist John Hicks solos and comps with his customary sparkle. But I keep being drawn to the tracks with Nguyen and Ngo—Westerners now, which means the graceful “Ly Ngua O” is as much a memory song for them as it is for Bang.
Billy Bang performs at Sweet Rhythm on August 11.