How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The duo releaseZilzalfurther defines the evolution of two master musician/composers pursing the most imaginative alternatives to the status quo. In recent years, the inventive violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang has been fully invested in exploring diverse compositional territories. His Burning Bridge octet is now firmly entrenched as a bellwether of genre-defying modern music with a distinct jazz accent. He has travelled the worlds of opera, classical and free jazz with equal passion, crossing traditional barriers and pushing against customary musical confines. Egyptian-born Ayman Fanous has honed distinctive and unconventional methods on both guitar and bouzouki managing to synergize classical, flamenco and free jazz techniques. He has performed in duos with bassist William Parker
and his performing history with Hwang that dates back fifteen years.
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.