Book of Stories

By Leonid Auskern,

Read at Jazz Quad

Google translation of Russian

Of all four albums by American violinist Jason Kao Hwang that I have listened to over the past four years, perhaps the newest one, Book of Stories, has come to my heart the most. It is made in a trio format, like the Human Rites Trio in 2020, only the instrumentation is different and the partners are different. This time, along with Jason's electric violin, electric guitar and drums sound. Behind the drums sits Michael T.A. Thompson, with whom Kao Hwang has played many times in the projects of choreographer and dancer Patricia Nicholson. Guitarist Anders Nilson lives and works in New York, like his project colleagues, but, unlike Kao Hwang, who was born in the States (his roots are still Chinese), Nilson comes from Sweden. They started playing with this line-up in 2018, but due to the pandemic, the cooperation of the musicians has resumed only now. Jason Kao Hwang called this trio Critical Response. 

Kao Hwang is rightly considered a prominent representative of the downtown scene, playing avant-garde jazz. But the opening and most voluminous composition in the program, The Power of Many in the Soul of One, reminded me of the downtown classics of the nineties: here, too, a very attractive and energetic mixture of avant-garde and fusion music sounds, which the Knitting Factory label was famous for in those years, and the final solo of Kao Hwang simply caresses the ear. Jason played something similar in the finale of Upside Circle Down, but the spirit of free jazz is noticeably stronger here. Thompson was noted for the big solo in this piece, and Nilson showed the qualities of a subtle lyricist. The next two tracks, a silent ghost follows and Dragon Carved into Bone, are roughly in the same vein, where you admire the dialogue between the electric violin and the electric guitar. The final track Friends Forever is Kao Hwang's recollection of the departed friends and what connected them. The bluesy mood is very appropriate here, and as a result, with some surprise, you listen to a very convincing and effective avant-garde blues - one of the strongest tracks in the program. 

Book of Stories as a whole feels less radical than Jason's previous work, and I think that's been good for the music. Kao Hwang is a great violinist and creative composer. It remains to be wondered why the priests of the Association of Jazz Journalists, when determining the nominees and laureates of their annual awards, do not notice this.