PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Billy Bang & Bill Cole: Billy Bang Bill Cole

Billy Bang and Bill Cole have a few things in common other than a similar first name and untempered instruments.

Billy Band & Bill Cole

Billy Band Bill Cole

Label: Shadrack
US Release Date: 2011-03-08
Label website
Artist website

Violinist Billy Bang and double-reed musician Bill Cole have worked together before, but this is their first time performing strictly as a duo. The music that the two of them create spontaneously is elastic, weird, and indescribably moving. It's almost kind of a shame that the chemistry created between these two, without a backing band, wasn't fully explored until both men were invited to give a lecture at the University of Virginia. Better late than never, though. Bang and Cole headed into the university's chapel in April of 2009 to play three originals and three improvised pieces in front of a very appreciative crowd, and Billy Bang Bill Cole is the result.

The music stirred up by these two men really does take on a life of its own, stretching every noticeable boundary for harmony, tempo, texture, and what passes for melodic interpretation. Billy Bang sticks to violin through the whole set, but Bill Cole switches between digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute, and shenai (I'll give you a moment to Google some of those). Instead of sounding like two instruments, the violin and whatever Cole is playing have a strange way of blending into one sound that is altogether bold but not brash. As Cole lets the digeridoo do its drone thing on the first untitled improvisation, Bang drearily pokes in and around the constant note to make some sort of all-encompassing sound: a digerilin, if you will.

As one would expect, the composed numbers have more melodic stakes than the improvisations. "Shades of Kia Mia," a Billy Bang piece that already made its way to CD ten years back, feels like it's going in two different directions at once while maintaining a mood that sits somewhere between melancholy and madness. Speaking of maddening things, Bang's other original "Jupiter's Future" pits its main lines against one another in a whole step harmony that almost inflicts mental pain. Bill Cole's one original "Poverty is the Father of Fear" sets things in a more tangible light, though not by much. Its conventional sense of melody and form are eventually shattered by a frantic, caterwauling search for some higher purpose. It's also a good reminder that, given the untempered properties of their instruments, such music would sound like total crap in the hands of just anyone else.

The mix feels a little dangerous, though. The sounds conjured up by Bang and Cole are very delicate while the enthusiastic whoops and hollers (and coughs) from the audience sound like they are captured by one pretty hot mic. A noticeable microphone "thunk" is unfortunately captured in the first track, though you can fault neither the musicians nor engineers for leaving the problem alone. So while passive listeners accustomed to music as background will not be bothered by these quirks, audiophiles and headphone listeners may be distracted. Who listens to Billy Bang as background, anyway?

I had the opportunity to hear and review Billy Bang's Prayer for Peace last year, and this album is definitely the more sprawling and exploratory of the two. Whereas Bang's ensembles will thrive within a certain modern jazz framework, Billy Band Bill Cole is the kind of collaborative live album that pulls out all the stops and just runs with it. Exactly what "it" is isn't easily defined, nor should we expect it to be. This is music that exists by floating, so I say let it.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.