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Jason Kao Hwang & Karl Berger: Conjure

Hrayr Attarian By

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On the ethereal and intimate Conjure, violinist Jason Kao Hwang and pianist-vibraphonist Karl Berger perform a set of eight improvised duets. Hwang was a member of Berger's Creative Music Orchestra, so the facility of their interaction is not surprising. The brilliant synergy between them, however, results in thought-provoking and thrillingly inventive music which moves with its deep lyricism.

The crisp cascade of Berger's nocturnesque mallets opens the melancholic "Silhouettes." Hwang goes from pizzicato punctuations to eerily bent notes which enhance the solemnity of the tune. Hwang's bow sings a mesmerizing and elegiac melody while Berger continues to contribute darkly resonant vamps. Berger closes with tolling tones which echo in silence.

This abstract spirituality reappears throughout the album. For instance, "Vanishing Roots" opens with a Zen-like atmosphere, with Hwang plucking individual strings and Berger countering with sparse key chimes. The conversation between them grows more contemplative and delightfully dissonant while maintaining the serene mood.

Hwang switches to the full-toned viola, with Berger sticking with the piano, on the wistful and mystical "Faith." Their individual stream of consciousness extemporizations are simultaneously complementary and divergent. They mirror one another in emotive content yet are independent in the tender poetic phrases they play.

One of the most expressionistic tracks on the recording is the quasi-pastoral "Water Finds Water." It is a dramatic exchange between overlapping tense violin and fluid vibraphone lines which create delicately shimmering and crystalline refrains. These, in turn, construct a thrillingly enigmatic and passionate piece which electrifies and captivates .

This stimulating meeting of minds between two of today's most original and innovative improvisers is absorbing from first note to last. It brims with the type of spontaneity that is imaginative and ruminant without being abstruse, sedate without being boring. Conjure is a rare recording that should appeal to both adventurous and mainstream listeners alike.

Track Listing: Prophecy; Silouettes; Beyond Reach; Vanishing Roots; Faith; Below Zero; Water Finds Water; Arise.

Personnel: Jason Kao Hwang: violin and viola; Karl Berger: piano and vibraphone.

Title: Conjure | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Flying Panda Music

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