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Soundtrack Review

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Lucky Man
Music from the Film


Artist: Billy Bang
Label: BBE Music / IF Music
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 14 May 2021

In association with IF Music, BBE Music presents Lucky Man: music from the eponymous documentary film, charting jazz violinist and Vietnam veteran Billy Bang’s brave return to the country, 40 years after the War. The film follows Bang as he returns to the battlefields of his past, this time with a violin in-hand instead of a rifle. The documentary follows Billy as he travels the length and breadth of Vietnam to collaborate with local musicians, discover the culture he never got to experience the first time around, and to try to find some closure for the haunting trauma that still lingers within...

In 2008, three years before his death, Lucky Man captured Billy Bang’s travels across Vietnam, interspersed with his candid thoughts about music, art, war, and his return to the country. The journey took him from Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, through to the highlands and the Banhar and Jorai gongs of the Montagnards, north across the 17th parallel, climaxing with ‘Mystery of the Mekong’, his collaboration with the Hanoi Symphony Orchestra.

In 1947, Billy Bang was only 18 years old when he was drafted and shipped out to Vietnam. He served only one tour of duty, but his traumatic experiences there would haunt him for the rest of his life. Small in stature, Bang became a ‘tunnel rat’, searching for North Vietnamese soldiers in booby-trapped tunnels with only a flashlight and a .45 pistol.

Bang started to address his Vietnam memories with his music on 2001’s critically acclaimed album Vietnam, The Aftermath, which also featured fellow veteran Ted Daniel. The 2005 follow-up Vietnam: Reflections featured four American Vietnam war veterans and two Vietnamese musicians. This project, Lucky Man, completes Billy Bang’s trilogy of Vietnam-themed works with a courageous solo voyage into the unknown; embarking on a new creative challenge while confronting a past he could never quite get over.

For those that have seen the documentary, the soundtrack to Lucky Man is a wonderful souvenir of Bang's travels across Vietnam, engaging in the rich musical culture and finding common ground with musicians who have a very different background.

For some, the constant interruption of Bang calling out "yeah!" and general encouragement on musical collaborations may be a little off putting... or you may be uplifted by his passion and excitement for the music and being creative in the moment.

Likewise, some may find the talking head passages to be a distraction. If you're buying the soundtrack you're more than likely to have seen the documentary. If you want sound bites you can rewatch the film. While they're included to provide context, it does have the result that they feel like padding.

It's interesting how diverse the music is, from traditional to jazz to classical music. 'Mystery of the Mekong' was the highlight for me, having a beautifully melancholic theme.


Nick Smithson

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