Jason Kao Hwang

Sing House
Euonymus EU 03

Perhaps it’s too capacious a statement, but there probably isn’t a better equipped or adventurous American violinist-violist on the contemporary music scene than Jason Kao Hwang. And Sing House goes a long way to confirming this statement. Hwang, whose playing experience encompasses Asian, notated and improvised ensembles, isn’t limited to any one of them. Additionally while his musical partners have included Butch Morris, William Parker and Anthony Braxton, he doesn’t score on string virtuosity alone. Each of the four compositions he wrote for this CD for instance, is just that; not in-the-moment improvising or will-o-wisp jamming. Each is created with a defined introduction, a centre section for variations and elaborations and a clearly defined final sequence.

While the line-up may be out of the ordinary, the participants lock into their roles so well, that a different configuration would be superfluous. Each is also a composer and bandleader on his own. Trombonist Steve Swell has worked with among many others, Gebhard Ullmann and Cecil Taylor; pianist Chris Forbes is part of Swell’s large ensemble; bassist Ken Filiano has been part of the ensembles of Vinny Golia and Connie Crothers; while drummer Andrew Drury has since 2004 played in different bands with Hwang and Filiano.

Hwang’s musical urbanity is initially signals by “No Such Thing”, which is a mini-suite in itself. Initially concerned with full-frontal rhythm via drum thumps, string stops and rebounds, the tune transitions into semi-march time opened up for plunger trombone vamps and fiddle sizzles as Hwang’s solo advances from fluid to frenetic without upsetting the underlying theme. Forbes’ detour into swing mid-way though creates another narrative fastener, giving the other players space to ascend to polyphonic splashes amplified with thick percussion actions and completed with mellow trombone soothing. Each of the other tracks is similarly structure with “Inscribe” for instance expanding from a heraldic and chugging head to give more space to Swell’s bulky trombone rasps and Hwang’s spiccato variables; and “Dream Walk”, which among the sound of piano chording that emulates so-called classical music, and drumming which excites with jazz-oriented ratchets, the violinist adds thin string-stretching which also provides a hint of Asian-like erhu tones.

Overall, among the looming power of liquid brass tones and controlled timbre cushioning from the rhythm section, Hwang unleashed his most powerful display of string stretching and bow acrobatics. Reminiscent at points of Billy Bang at his freest, while playing as outside as he wishes, Hwang like Bang before him never loses touch with formal string underpinnings.

Some may have other concepts of what the CD’s title means. But it’s certainly one location at which most people would like to hear Hwang and associates instrumentally sing.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. No Such Thing 2. Dream Walk 3. When What Could 4. Inscribe.

Personnel: Steve Swell (trombone); Jason Kao Hwang (violin and viola); Chris Forbes (piano); Ken Filiano (bass) and Andrew Drury (drums)