Jason Kao Hwang's Burning Bridge - Blood

Label: True Sound Recordings, 2018

Personnel - Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn; Steve Swell: trombone; Joseph Daley: tuba; Sun Li: pipa; Wang Guowei: erhu; Ken Filiano: bass; Andrew Drury: drums.


Violinist Jason Kao Hwang has been a continuous presence in the New York’s Lower East Side avant-garde scene. His last recording, Sing House, deserved the respect of the media, featuring a quintet whose members, with exception of pianist Chris Forbes, are also part of his newest work, Blood, a composite of creative jazz, free improvisation, and Chinese traditional music. Thus, in addition to trombonist Steve Swell, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Andrew Drury - the eight-piece Burning Bridge ensemble includes tuba player Joseph Daley, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, pipa player Sun Li, and erhu artist Wang Guowei.

Hwang meditated upon the emotional traumas of war, taking into consideration the tormenting experiences of fellow musicians Billy Bang and Butch Morris in Vietnam as well as his own mother’s in WWII. The album consists in a continuous track that was divided into five pieces and titled for convenience.

Breath Within The Bomb” kicks off with warlike percussion, which mixed with the severe, serrated sounds of Filiano’s bowed bass and Swell’s deep notes, augments the claustrophobic sensations of being trapped in a devastating reality. As it moves forward, the tune acquires a passive Asian-flavored taste, only to become moderately cacophonous in a passage where Drury’s drum activity exhibits a ferocious, kinetic energy. Tranquility returns at the end with an Eastern-infused dialogue between violin and erhu.

Divided into two parts of approximately seven minutes each, “Surge” is initially designed through orchestral slides and rhythmic accents before granting fine improvisations by Hwang, Bynum, and Guowei over a Sun Ra-inspired rhythm. Daley’s deep tuba sounds populates the second part with an extemporaneous urge.

If, to this point, haunting pictures were created through chiaroscuro sonic treatments, then “Evolution” eases things up by rooting a groovy jazz bass in American soil. The blues-based structure becomes an excellent vehicle for Bynum’s explorative yet melodically charged solo, Sun Li’s dissertation, as well as for Hwang’s bluesy stretches with fair responses from the band. The concluding “Declarations” encompasses Filiano’s outstanding arco rumination and Daley’s extended tuba stretch, among other things.

By constantly alternating the density of the orchestrations, Hwang suggests different scenarios that correspond to transformative states of mind. The thrills of spontaneity come from individual statements but also from interspersed interlocutions with two or three musicians. After all, this is music of exploration and reflection.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Breath Within The Bomb ► 02 – Surge Pt. 1 ► 04 - Evolution

Jason Kao Hwang - Sing House

Label/Year: Eonymous Records, 2017

Lineup – Jason Kao Hwang: violin and viola; Steve Swell: trombone; Chris Forbes: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Andrew Drury: drums.

American violinist, violist, and composer from Chinese descent, Jason Kao Hwang, has followed his own path in the avant-jazz scene with a few interesting albums of his own authorship and many memorable collaborations along the way with Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Dominic Duval, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, and more recently with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum.

On his new work, Sing House, he establishes immersive sonic architectures with the help of a brand new quintet whose musicians have been accompanying him throughout the years, whether in personal projects like EDGE and Burning Bridge or other formations that some of them might put together. They are Steve Swell on trombone, Chris Forbes on piano, Ken Filiano on bass, and Andrew Drury on drums.

The band conjures a variety of moods throughout the 49 minutes of an equilibrated album whose each of the four original compositions lasts between 11 and 14 minutes.

No Such Thing”, the opening piece, surges with a romping start, exposing the collective prowess through ever-shifting rhythms and natural sound manipulations. The introductory chapter fades out evenly, giving an opportunity to Drury, alone, to exhibit a few chattering drum scrambles. The improvisations are placed over the textural compactness formed by piano, bass, and drums. Still, the improvised discourses of Swell and Hwang occur within different settings. The former blows while having a denser funk-rock foundation under his feet; the latter bowed with a more volatile if audacious broken swing as a framework. Forbes’ bluesy pianism and rhythmic whirlwinds bring Horace Tapscott’s demeanors into the scene, impelling Drury to fire back with potent palpitations. Before finishing with calm poise, there is still time for Filiano’s complex bass plucking with bends, and Hwang’s violin whines and woes.

Everyone must agree that dream walking is an instance of perils and an exposure to risk. It’s exactly this sense of uncertainty and even obscurity that Hwang describes in “Dream Walk”, where a mix of creaky and deep-toned sounds crush in and respond to one another with diligent counterpoint. A sudden wake up may bring another wild adventure and the quintet also covers that part with a half festive, half desperate sense of urgency, which translates into another set of extemporaneous outpours.

When What Could”, obeying to six note beats per bar, embraces malleable contortions as it flutters from spacious chamber music to catchy rock inflections, which are transformed and adapted again into a more freeing and abstract concept for the final section.

The closing tune, “Inscribe”, nurtures beautiful orchestrations with different paces and resolute rhythms. Also overlapping ostinatos, triumphant solos, and enthusiastic parallel motions and unisons are also part of the trade.

Never gratuitous, this is wise avant music on the cutting edge, thriving with an unmitigated magnetism, rhythmic resourcefulness, and shimmering lyricism.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – No Such Thing ► 03 – When What Could ► 04 – Inscribe