by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence Magazine
The New York City-based loft scene of the 1970s paved the way for a strong scene that developed in the 1980s and 90s. The three players featured in this review developed their music in the fallout of the loft scene and came into their own in the 1990s. Each has been a productive player experimenting with their own ideas and each has a substantial discography worth exploring. These are their three latest releases.
Violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang is a classic representation of this phenomena. He was a participant in the loft scene and formed the band Commitment with reed player Will Connell, bassist William Parker and drummer Zen Matsuura and self-released their only album in 1980. (It was reissued with additional live material by the No Business label in 2010). Hwang released the first album under his own name in 1990 (Unfolding Stone) and hasn’t looked back since. He’s released nearly 20 albums under his own name including an opera and those with his highly- praised eight piece multi-cultural Burning Bridge ensemble.
Within this discography are a number of duet records including one with bassist Dominic Duval and Korean stringed instrument player Sang Won Park. Conjure finds Hwang playing with vibist/pianist Karl Berger and it’s yet another major release in his discography. Berger, who was among the first Europeans to embrace the jazz avant-garde in the 1960s, has been extremely productive in the 2010s. In addition to playing in Berger’s Creative Music Orchestra, Hwang featured in the string section of Berger’s 2018 Tzadik release In A Moment where Berger’s piano was matched with a string ensemble. So perhaps it was inevitable that Conjure would happen. Whatever the circumstances, the listener is the fortunate recipient of this wonderful music.
The opener “Prophecy” starts with Hwang’s opening phrases sounding almost guttural and they’re matched by Berger’s sparse piano chords. The piece moves slowly, deliberately laying out the shape of the music. One can tell that they are listening deeply to each other. The album proceeds apace to the penultimate piece “Water Finds Water”. It opens with an arpeggiated figure from Berger’s vibes and is soon matched by spectral harmonics from Hwang. The piece develops from there but Berger keeps returning to the opening figure. Over 13 minutes they dance around each other before summing it up with a final return to the opening. The entire album contains eight gems like this. Conjure is a series of spontaneous intimate duets, beautifully recorded and is one of the finest albums in each of their voluminous discographies.