Jason Kao Hwang

Asian Improv AIR0067

Coming to terms with sound heritages that are neither European nor African-American is one of improvised music’s newest challenges. Yet violinist Jason Kao Hwang is one player who navigates the contradictions with ease.

Other Hwang projects unambiguously celebrate his Asian-American background. But Edge satisfies by taking his credentials as a given to be melded with other sonic elements. Only one of his four compositions is even vaguely Oriental, and that’s probably more by inference than design.

If it seems that Hwang’s playing an erhu on “Grassy Hills” and Taylor Ho Bynum initially is blowing a radung not a cornet, it’s a fleeting apparition. For the key to these episodic pieces is the binding of musical strands. Bynum, who works in Anthony Braxton’s sextet, often uses grace notes to advance melodies. Alternately he fires off a series of throaty tremolo tones to duet with flying staccato fiddle vibrations. Distinctively and cross-culturally on “Threads”, his mellow flugelhorn tone resembles that of a shofar’s.

Architecturally organized, the tunes give bassist Ken Filiano dual roles: maintaining the walking beat, as Hwang’s triple-stopping spiccato exposes complementary multiphonics; or stately double counterpoint with the violinist for string section unity. Meanwhile percussionist Andrew Drury bounces and rebounds on the bottom as needed. Elsewhere he rattles cymbals as if they were temple bells and treats snare tops as talking drums or wood blocks.

— Ken Waxman

CODA Issue 329