Something in the Air | Inventive Improvisational Inspirations Are Infinite - May 2019 

Written by Ken Waxman , thewholenote.com

Published: 26 April 2019 


As difficult as the idea of creating sophisticated improvisational music may sometimes seem, even more fraught with challenges is finding the inspiration behind any improvisation. Creation may be singular or involve ensembles of varying size, while the influence or incentive for the work may result from examining a work of art, an historical action, a physical or spatial location or even a realized sonic concept. Each of these notable discs defines inspirations in a unique fashion. 

Take American violinist Jason Kao Hwang’s Blood (True Sound Recordings TS1 jasonkaohwang.com). His eight-member Burning Bridge ensemble mixes Eastern (pipa and erhu) and Western (three brass, double bass and drums) instruments on five of Hwang’s polychromatic compositions which make their points by twisting varied musical strands, but without trading efficiency for exoticism. Although reflecting on trauma inflicted on his mother in China and his associates in the Vietnam War, Blood isn’t agitprop. Instead, melancholy and aggression are portrayed through sounds. For instance, on the title track, stop-time counterpoint from Steve Swell’s trombone projecting from a bellicose march driven by Andrew Drury’s drums cedes space to delicate textures from Wang Guowei’s erhu and Sun Li’s pipa. Although the concluding Declarations references and resolves the CD with a peaceful overlay consisting of chromatic pipa strums plus pedal-point modulations from Swell and tubist Joseph Daley, theatrical woe is balanced by sophisticated virtuosity. Giving the Asian instruments parts that unselfconsciously swing, some of Hwang’s other tunes skip and soar with lively inferences. The two-part Surge for example, finds string parts swirling around Taylor Ho Bynum’s graceful, kinetic cornet, and if Hwang’s violin solo impresses with calculated flying spiccato then so do Li’s crunching strums with a blues sensibility closer to the Mississippi river than the Yangtze. Surge Part 2 is more memorable, since not only does Daley confirm his breath control as he matter-of-factly slides from basso-like to sopranino-like tones, but the composition’s uniqueness is confirmed when Hwang’s bluesy sweeps and Swell’s plunger yelps erupt from within a sequence that emphasizes string stretches from the traditional Chinese instruments.

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