Billy Bang / William Parker – Medicine Buddha


Medicine Buddha captures one of the last live performances by two artists linked by an invisible bond which goes beyond the mere definition of “friendship”. The set, recorded in 2009 at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, demonstrates how a hard existence reinforced by the act of producing earnest music can shape a grounded being into a positive force for a listening humanity; resentment and bad vibes are entirely absent from the scene. About Bang, who left us in 2011, Parker writes: “When the music came around it grabbed him and he was majestic”. The same applies to the bassist over the course of these five tracks, and we are the ones rejoicing for this superb combination of fervent talents.

Throughout the concert the mood is, so to speak, celebratory without religiousness. The long title track sounds like a vehement joint invocation, prior to becoming a model of individual skill. The way Bang and Parker extrapolate scything upper partials, profound melodies and built-in rhythms while surfing the crest of quarter-tone waves is impressive, to say the least. In “Eternal Planet”, an homage to Leroy Jenkins, they add the oil of dissonant spirit to already firing improvisational cylinders; a diminutive string combo with a light-heavyweight’s clout. Both in those contexts and in calmer sections — such as the beautiful “Sky Song”, characterized by Parker’s use of the shakuhachi — one is pervaded by a much desired feeling of peacefulness, notwithstanding a few acoustic discrepancies which, at any rate, won’t bother a trained ear. The entire album exudes an inner confidence soundtracked by a pair of arcos refraining from any sort of mannerism in favor of a somewhat fibrous quietude.

Quoting again Parker’s heartfelt liners, “Billy showed me how to laugh, and through that laughter to see life as the most serious thing there could be”. Accordingly, these sounds will embrace those still willing to open themselves up to the warmth that comes with the unworried acceptance of life’s severe teachings.