Composer and violinist Jason Kao Hwang and his group Edge return with a story to tell on each of the five tracks on Stories Before Within. Hwang has long been a potent force in assimilating various styles of music, particularly Chinese, Korean and Japanese, with jazz. The result has been a startling cornucopia of thematic dynamics.
Hwang moves into new territory here, setting up his adventures with "Cloud Call," which was inspired by a Ukrainian street festival. The tune devolves on the motifs that drew him, but Hwang brings in his own ideas to flesh and spirit the composition. He lets his violin rise in happy flight, allowing the tempo to surge and fall. Taylor Ho Bynum moves into a freer ambit on the cornet, which he balances with jazz harmony, his finger firmly on the pulse. Bynum's road to invention is extended by Ken Filiano (string bass) and Andrew Drury (drum set) before Bynum reintroduces the melody and cocoons the free explorations.
Hwang had recorded "Third Sight" on Local Lingo (Euonymus Records, 2007) with Sang Won Park. The duo gave the Korean melody an ethereal beauty. This time around the sound is, understandably enough, fuller. The inherent charm is still undiminished though, and the air is exuberant. The quartet plays vivid ensemble lines, lithe and pliant, washing deeply into the melody. The beat changes to a martial one, Bynum squeezing notes out of the cornet as Hwang darts from melody to open-ended notes.
"Walking Pictures" is a series of images. Each maps a logical spot in the mosaic. An abstract opening statement turns into the blues and swing before it breaks that cast and wanders into open territory once more. Both Hwang and Bynum are the instigators for an imaginative excursion, but Drury keeps the rhythm crisp and sparkling and Filiano has a supple string bass venting the base to complete the enticement.
Hwang and Edge not only feed off each other, they fill each other with a sense of anticipation and direction. In so doing, they make this a treat.
Cloud Call; From East Sixth Street; Walking Pictures; Third Sight; Embers.
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Andrew Drury: drum set; Ken Filiano: string bass; Jason Kao Hwang: composer, violin, viola (track 3).