Since Billy Bang's pivotal recording Vietnam: The Aftermath, the modern creative violinist has been refining his approach to making music with an Asian-inspired touch, largely successful and definitely personal. With Prayer for Peace, he's more adamant about war being unnecessary -- domestically or internationally -- serving up a progressive jazz that speaks to the heart while refusing to take no for an answer. Produced by the Tum label out of Helsinki, Finland, violin master Bang has convened an ensemble with contrasting styles, with the spare piano musings of Andrew Bemkey, the conversational, taut, and vibrant trumpeter James Zollar, a relatively standard rhythm section, and on two cuts, Afro-Cuban percussionists. Ranging from straight-ahead swing to Latin or Pan-Pacific sounds, Bang is stretching out in ways he has only stylistically touched on in previous projects. The CD is bookended with straight-ahead vintage jazz, including the opener, Stuff Smith's neat "Only Time Will Tell" while Cuban Compay Segundo's contrasting light, seductive danzon "Chan Chan" includes the masterful hand drummers Milton Cardona and Joe Gonzalez. Of the five originals penned by Bang, Bemkey's thinly veiled piano gives the band a crystal platform to launch the violinist's tart strings in Mandarin-like tones during the inspired, low-density funk of "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," and for a modal discourse during "Dark Silhouette." Bassist Todd Nicholson and the underappreciated Newman Taylor-Baker at the drum kit are so locked in with each other as to provide the ultimate springboard for Bang and an effervescent Zollar (check out his CD Zollar Systems) to take off from in counter measures. The partnership established between all of these musicians is rare, and as unique unto itself as any other ensemble Billy Bang has ever assembled. This CD comes with a very high recommendation, containing music even skeptics of Bang's previous outings can easily enjoy.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos