Jason Kao Hwang / Ayman Fanous: Zilzal (2014)
The album opens with a piece that only nominally sets the tone for what follows. "Nilometer at Roda," while non-traditional from world or jazz music perspectives, is melodic and harmonious at its core. Melody is not extraneous on Zilzal but improvisation is the overriding approach as the program goes forward. Three relatively brief pieces make up a partially detached suite, "DNA: Untranslated," "DNA: Messenger," "DNA: Binding Sights" and they are more representative of the album's themes. These brief sections are free-ranging explorations that fluctuate between soothing passages, recurring pulses and nondescript tones. Like all the selections on Zilzal this is thoughtful modern music not easily positioned in a genre.
The title track demonstrates Fanous's skill at merging flamenco and free improvisation. Hwang's viola races over the guitar at breakneck speed before both musicians slow the tempo a bit. Tempo variations also proliferate on "Mausoleum of Beybars the Crossbowman" which opens to a striking middle-eastern melody from Fanous's bouzouki. The violin quickly elevates and sustains the pace though the complex piece closes more resembling a lullaby. Similarly, "Lapwing" is full of abstractions and abruptly divergent dynamics that demand close attention.
Framed by beautifully rendered opening and closing works, Zilzal is an impressive and multifaceted collection. Unhurried and atmospheric at times, feverish at others, it is a cross-cultural experience through uncharted territory. As such, it is best engaged as a holistic experience free of fixed expectations.
Track Listing: Nilometer at Roda; DNA: Untranslated; DNA: Messenger, the Message; Zilzal; Mausoleum of Beybars the Crossbowman; DNA: Binding Sights; Lapwing; Darb al-Arbaeen; Tree of the Virgin at Matariya.
Personnel: Ayman Fanous: guitar (2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8), bouzouki (1, 5, 9); Jason Kao Hwang: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 9), viola (1, 4, 6, 8).
Record Label: Innova Recordings
Style: Modern Jazz