by Steven Loewy, New York City Jazz Record, March, 2019
Violinist Jason Kao Hwang’s latest project is a reflection on the deleterious long-term memories war leaves in its wake. Triggered by his mother’s suffering during World War II, Hwang composed Blood both as a harrowing reminder of man’s inhumanity and a plea for peace. The piece speaks to man’s potential, with a nod to Lincoln, to embrace the better angels of human nature. The recording is one long work, with five tracks, referred to in the liner notes as “sections,” with 28 “staged scenes.” The latter lead to mesmerizing rapid-fire changes and swinging rhythms, peppered by improvisational drives.
Burning Bridge is a fascinating blend: A trio of brass with Steve Swell (trombone), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet and flugelhorn) and Joseph Daley (tuba); four stringed instruments with Hwang’s violin, Ken Filiano’s upright bass, Sun Li’s pipa and Wang Guowei’s erhu; all anchored by Andrew Drury on drums and percussion. Although there is an Eastern flair, emphasized by Hwang’s writing and the influence of the Asian strings, there are hints of common ground with some Duke Ellington suites, Anthony Braxton’s pulsating thrusts and John Zorn’s machinations.
Blood is highly original, drawing on sophisticated arrangements that fuse Eastern and Western elements and revealing Hwang’s early classical training. Opening in silence and shifting to tuba-inflected low tones. the octet plays exotically, a tightly drawn unit without decipherable melody. The results are exhilarating: pointillistic strings contrasted with tuba-inflected drones and stunning improvisations, segueing to measured erhu playing off evanescent violin. Bynum swooshes and explodes above the fray with brash thrusts and Swell swings with contagious alacrity over the little big band before devolving into smaller roles. Drury is an important buffer and soloist, pushing, pulling and sparking energetically. Hwang is an ever-present influence, whether through his magisterial writing or gorgeous violin.