Stories Before Within is the second album from violinist Jason Kao Hwang's three-year-old ensemble, Edge. Their self-titled debut for Asian Improv Records was one of 2006's sleeper hits, a record brimming with stirring melodies, unorthodox arrangements and stunning group interplay. No less imaginative, their follow-up blends Eastern and Western traditions with even greater conviction.
Joined again by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Andrew Drury, Hwang and company venture even further into Asiatic sonorities, exploring a wide array of stylistic variations over the course of these five long-form pieces.
Inspired by a Ukrainian street festival, "Cloud Call" opens the album with swirling counterpoint and dynamic shifts in tempo and pitch. Hwang's keening violin sings with a folksy tone as Bynum's elusive cornet escalates from fragmented, expressive cries to raspy flurries. Filiano's bowed bass resonates with sinewy verve, while Drury sketches between the lines with scintillating percussion.
"From East Sixth Street" invokes historical jazz traditions culled from the Lower East Side neighborhood that has been home to generations of improvisers, including Hwang. A swaggering pulse and funky, angular line knits the present to the past with expressive brio. Bynum's splintery brass fragments introduce robust glissandos and piercing harmonics from Hwang and Filiano, as they ascend the orchestral palpitations of Drury's multi-hued drum kit.
"Walking Pictures" deconstructs a strutting blues vamp, channeling primal soul into ethereal vespers. Ghostly ruminations yield zealous testimonials and pliant swing as the quartet alternates between austere introspection and kaleidoscopic drama.
A majestic fanfare sets the stage for the stately "Third Sight," as Hwang and Bynum careen over a propulsive vamp embroiled in vivacious discourse. Abruptly switching gears, Drury and Filiano submit their own lyrical soliloquies before the exuberant reprise.
Closing the album on a bittersweet note, "Embers" unfolds with languid, neo-classical restraint as each member contributes heartfelt variations on a plangent melody.
Another brilliant collection of forward-thinking compositions from Hwang, Stories Before Within offers a rich blend of jazz and chamber music that seamlessly merges Eastern and Western traditions into a singular, global hybrid.
Personnel: Jason Kao Hwang: violin, viola (3); Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Ken Filiano: string bass; Andrew Drury: drums.