Review by Robert Iannapollo, New York City Jazz Record, 12/12
Violinist Jason Kao Hwang has written some substantial compositions: a chamber opera; a piece for 37 strings and percussionist, and a tribute called "50 Strings for Leroy Jenkins". Burning Bridge, scored for strings (both Eastern and Western), brass and percussion, is a genre-straddling work taking into account traditional Chinese music, jazz in its many manifestations and a Protestant church hymn deconstructed for good measure.
Hwang had been working on the piece for years, but the death of his mother spurred him on to complete it. One of the things he did was to incorporate certain aspects of her speech patterns into the piece. Another key feature is the interplay between Chinese and Western instruments. Hwang frequently plays them off against each other, such as a duet between erhu and tuba or violin and pipa. But rather than displaying an opposition or contrast, it's amazing how the two complement each other. This is also true of ensemble passages, where the blend can be invigorating and intoxicating. The incorporation of "Doxology" (aka "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow"), a Protestant hymn appears twice, initially in the second movement as a brass chorale, and then in the fifth movement played on Eastern instruments.
The ensemble is stacked with excellent players. Joe Daley's tuba is a prominent feature throughout and he carries off some difficult passages with aplomb. The same is true of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and trombonist Steve Swell. Special mention has to be made of Sun Li on pipa (a Chinese lute-like instrument) and Wang Guowei on erhu (a two-stringed violin). Both are classically trained players and this type of ensemble playing is not common for them but they rise to the occasion, making their instruments sound both ancient and modern. The rhythm section of Ken Filiano and Andrew Drury ties everything together. Hwang's composition, while epic in scope, conveys the intimacy of lives lived in a foreign culture.
-- The New York City Jazz Record, Robert Iannapollo - December 1, 2012