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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jason Kao Hwang - Edge (Asian Improv Records, 2006) ****½

This is not a recent CD, but it's now available via PayPlay and that's good news, because it was hard to get. Jason Kao Hwang is a violinist and composer whose album "The Gift" with Roy Campbell and William Hooker is among the best I've heard in the previous years. On "Edge", he is accompanied by Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Andrew Drury on drums and Ken Filiano on bass. The relatively short album consists of four tracks of about equal length, but the conciseness is largely compensated by the quality of the music. Kao Hwang makes music fresh from nothing. Sure, it is jazz, because we call it that, but it could it be anything else too. It's highly rhythmic, highly melodic, very intense, extremely well-structured and very open in its possibilities. His violin-playing is absolutely stellar, creating sounds on it which are unusual at times, yet deeply emotional, his solos fly all over the place, or dance, or sing, or weep. Taylor Ho Bynum is fantastic here, as are Filiano and Drury. And as I've pointed out before, Filiano's unbelievable precision and creativity on arco bass prove to be a wonderful musical counterpart for the violin, just listen to the beginning of "Parallel Meditations" to convince yourself. The great thing about all four musicians is that, although the music is free, they play their instruments largely within the tradition, every so often stretching the possibilities of the instruments, but without overdoing it or without making it the main focus of the music. This album is all about the music itself, with a clear and coherent artistic vision which unites all tracks into one unified whole. The moods vary from absolute calm, sad moments, to high energy nervousness and agitation, with sometimes abrupt changes and sudden unisono lines in the midst of improvizations ... and all this within the same piece. On "Grassy Hills" Taylor Ho Bynum plays a trumpet solo, without accompaniment, and although it sounds calm, the underlying tension is incredible. This is very rich music. Absolutely highly recommended!

Listen to samples on Jason Kao Hwang's website.