From the earliest part of his solo career, violinist and composer Jason Kao Hwang has employed an eclectic blend of Western and Eastern influences. His recording roots were no less wide-ranging, beginning with Anthony Braxton
's Sextet (Istanbul)
(Braxton House, 1995), even if the influences were harder to pin down. Hwang later recorded with William Parker
and then Henry Threadgill
and Dominic Duval
but as he progressed, his music was less married to a recognizable jazz language. He arranged and performed for the Broadway production of M. Butterfly
and composed a chamber opera, The Floating Box: A Story in Chinatown
reunites Hwang with his EDGE and Burning Bridge colleagues, drummer Andrew Drury
, Ken Filiano
on bass (from both groups) and trombonist Steve Swell
(Burning Bridge). This quintet is rounded out by pianist Chris Forbes. Forbes leads his own trio and is a composer and music educator who has written for symphonies, chamber groups, jazz ensembles, and musical theater. His diverse background makes him a natural fit with Hwang.
There is a return to a more definable jazz model with Sing House
though there are subtle Asian influences as well. Each of Hwang's four compositions run into double-digit lengths allowing for vignettes to play out within each. Though there is nothing formulaic about "No Such Thing," it does set the stage for a loose pattern of intricate group improvisations and limited solos from all. "Dream Walk" opens in a reserved manner, works to all-consuming frenzy, and then quietly exits. "When What Could" (with Hwang on viola) and "Inscribe," move from moments of dark to light, reflection to turmoil, but both held together by the anchoring of Drury and Filiano.
Hwang continues to explore musical conditions that appeal to his fascination with the factors that go beyond rhythm, and melody. He relies heavily on his collaborators and their shared presence comes through in each of these compositions, the group channeling their individual strengths into a collective effort. Sing House
is a challenging but highly accessible outing.
No Such Thing; Dream Walk; When What Could; Inscribe.
Jason Kao Hwang: violin, viola; Chris Forbes: piano; Steve Swell: trombone; Ken Filiano: bass; Andrew Drury: drums.