Violinist, composer Jason Kao Hwang and many of his band-mates are among the leading exponents of the new jazz, where disparate genres coalesce, often in seamless fashion to nurture our imaginative inclinations in such a way that standard idioms and classifications go by the wayside. And as the album title implicates, the underlying theme cascades into a five-act tome, based on the passion, mourning and aftershocks of war. In the album notes Hwang adds, "blood meditates upon the emotional traumas of war retained within the body as unspoken vibrations that reverberate throughout communities and across generations." Thus, once the underlying fabric is established, the musical paradigms that project the torrents and destruction caused by warfare become clear.
The inclusion of Sun Li 's performances on the Chinese pipa (5-stringed instrument) and Wang Guowei's use of an erhu aka Chinese violin (two-stringed bowed instrument), help integrate East Asian modalities into Western jazz, Third Stream and other offshoots that morph into a unique soundstage. The artists mimic explosions and the calamities of war amid chilling undertones and Hwang's harrowing or optimistic staccato lines, shadowed by flourishing horns and the frontline's vigorous solos throughout several passages. At times the swelling outbreaks and penetrating choruses are akin to the startling aftershocks of jumping into an ice cold lake as stark realism is transferred to your listening space.
"Surge, Part 1" is constructed with wily parts and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum's muted, wah-wah lines, rendering notions of despair within a series of angular and streaming passages via scathing flurries and shades of the Orient. Whereas, "Evolution" continues with the musicians' intense dialogues, mutating into a conventional jazz rock blues boogie, tinted by off-color overlays, Joseph Daley's pumping tuba parts and the leader's extended note voicings. Here, the frontline engages in numerous tradeoffs and lengthy call and response vamps, leading to climactic endings and interweaving strings, as the band alters the momentum and ups the ante towards closeout.
The musicians often append vocal-like phrasings into the grand schema, further honing down the semblance of a film score based on the grave subject matter. And Daley aims for the stars during his fierce, super-speed solo on "Declarations," underscored by Hwang's twirling lines and the ensemble's impassioned statements and simmering narratives. Overall, it's a striking presentation that may take two or three listens to fully digest.
Breath Within the Bomb; Surge, Part 1; Surge, Part 2; Evolution; Declarations.
Jason Kao Hwang: composer, violin; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn; Joseph Daley: tuba; Andrew
Drury: drum set, concert bass drum and percussion; Ken Filiano: string bass; Sun Li: pipa; Steve Swell:
trombone; Wang Guowei: erhu.