Karl Berger / Jason Kao Hwang: "Conjure" (True Sounds)
Antonio Branco, Jazz.pt
Renowned real-time composition craftsmen Karl Berger and Jason Kao Hwang – musicians from different generations, nearly 20 years old separating them – sequence in "Conjure" to a partnership dating back at least to the times when the violinist and violetist of Chinese descent joined the Creative Music Studio orchestra, a structure founded in 1971 by Berger, his wife, singer Ingrid Sertso, and Ornette Coleman.
Berger, born in Germany, octogenarian, pianist and vibraphonist, also a composition teacher, collaborated intensely with fixtures such as Coleman, Don Cherry, Barbieri Cat, Anthony Braxton, among many others, being one of the deans of free improvisation. Hwang, the son of Chinese parents emigrated to the United States after World War II, has developed an unconventional approach to the instruments he touches and improvisation, unfolding his activity by a wide range of projects and collaborations.
Last year, Berger (with Hwang in training, along with other relevant musicians from the New York scene, such as Ken Filiano and Tomas Ulrich) edited "In a Moment", the final part of a trilogy for tzadik – John Zorn's label – a 14-part suite for piano and strings. The violinist also offered us in 2018 the excellent "Blood", conceptual record in octet, in which he explored the theme of violence inherent to the pain-regeneration process, fixing the "blood" as the primordial healing agent.
On a March 2014 sunny Sunday, Hwang headed north of New York State to historic Woodstock, targeting sertso studio for a musical adventure, this without a predetermined itinerary or guidance equipment. The two musicians know each other particularly well and let the creative process flow without obstacles or impositions, seeking to capture the spontaneity and freedom of the occasion.
The music of "Conjure" is, in general, dominated by tranquility and modesty, in frank conversations, almost whispered, between violin and piano (or vibraphone), approaching the coordinates of some more contemplative contemporary classical music. "Prophecy" starts the album and says a lot about what you will hear from there onwards: Hwang's clear notes on the sparse piano, in beautiful dialogues in which the melody is never obvious or self-centered. Even in the most exploratory moments, the violinist imbued his interventions with a strong emotional burden. "Silhouettes" begins with Berger's ethereal vibraphone, the one that joins the violin, underlining the games of light and dark. In "Beyond Reach" it highlights the permanent tension, with the violin wandering on the piano contained, replaced at some point by vibraphone, without the atmosphere of the piece changing greatly.
As usual in his work, Hwang carries the millenary ballast of Chinese culture, albeit subliminally. That's what seems to happen in "Vanishing Roots", with the violin in pizzicato (echoing sounds produced by Oriental string instruments) to ally with the piano. "Faith", shared meditation, attests to Hwang's ability to develop twisted melodic lines and Berger, always reacting to them, deepens the atmosphere, praising the final part of the play. In its most abstract contours, "Below Zero" resumes pizzicato, but this time in interaction with vibraphone, functioning as an antechamber for "Water Finds Water", the most extensive piece of the album, which refers me to what happens in many rivers of the Amazon, whose waters, when they meet, do not mix, due to different temperatures, densities or other possible factors (the natural phenomenon inspired the great Oscar Niemeyer for one of his final works, in 2005, a monument project that, turned these years, hasn't left the drawer yet.)
This other meeting, between Berger and Hwang, shows two musicians who interact without dilute their identities, celebrating free music and giving carte blanche to the deepest human emotions.