Jason Kao Hwang Critical Response - Book of Stories

by Ferdinanc Dupuis-Panther, Jazz Halo, August 1, 2023  

Read at Jazz Halo

 (Google translation from German)

The US fusion trio includes Jason Kao Hwang (composer/electric violin), Anders Nilsson (electric guitar) and Michael T.A. Thompson (drums). 

In the press release for the album we read: “Fusion—after a half-century or so—has reached a certain age, meriting serious reconsideration if not complete reconceptualization, as indeed it receives here by critical response. While the Afrofuturist experimentalism of its trailblazing earliest manifestations may soon have devolved in more commercial directions, it crossed paths briefly but seminally with avant-garde jazz on New York's downtown Loft Jazz scene, whose inspiring aesthetic intersections reverberate throughout the music now at hand." 

Certainly, in the history of jazz and rock there have always been bands and soloists who have given the violin a new purpose beyond classical music or folk music. Think of Didier Lockwood or Jean-Luc Ponty, but also of Stéphane Grapelli or The Flock. But the violin is and remains exotic in jazz as far as the instrumentation is concerned. All the more you should prick up your ears for the fusion trio around Jason Kao Hwang. 

At the beginning of "The Power of Many in the Soul of One" you think you're listening to whales. This impression dissolves very quickly. The wailing and sometimes whimpering violin is one thing, the flowing string lines of the guitar another. Staccato sounds mingle with dramatic melody lines that could easily be scored for a documentary about cloudscapes. What we hear is atmospheric. In addition, it must be emphasized that the violinist does not alone determine the coloration of the sound, but that the guitarist is also significantly involved. When Anders Nilsson pulls the strings, pure rock is the order of the day. In the interplay with the violinist, solid structures are then dissolved and sound mosaic stones seem to be lined up. In any case, it cannot be deduced from the sound forms that this piece is dedicated to the leader of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. There are certainly dramatic scenes to be witnessed, but that seems out of context, doesn't it? Finally, the sounds escalate into a tsunami and maelstrom, the playing of the two string acrobats becomes wild and beyond fixed structures. Breaking out of structures is the motto. But the trio returns to this towards the end, with a whimpering of strings and a hint of woo-awow. 

And then towards the end one seems to hear whale song again, which the violinist elicits from his instrument. "Upside Circle Down" follows the opening track. A short-wave buzzing determines the beginning of the piece. Electronics are mixed in, that's the impression. Synth impressions determine the musical events. One or the other listener must think of dancing will-o'-the-wisps in view of the music. The driving force is the percussion game. Flickering can also be discerned. Doesn't that make scratching part of the lecture? Sometimes it also seems as if the sound of the siren was the inspiration for the musical arrangement. As soon as the guitarist can be heard alone, the purely melodic pushes to the surface, one sees smooth surfaces and short waves. Jason Kao Hwang follows up on the music of Lockwood and Ponty. The diverging is given up in favor of a melange of string sounds. Surroundings then determine the sound. Furthermore, we find on the current album "a silent ghost follows": As you can see, the piece was composed because of a recurring dream. Ghostly, high-pitched sounds spread out, spread out and fade away. You have to think of the background music for horror films here and there when it comes to music, right? At the same time, symbolist paintings of Bruges in the Mist or stories by Edgar Allan Poe come to mind. The uncanny spreads in various sound patterns, also in a percussion solo, where one has the impression of theatrical thunder and timpani inferno. Distorted clouds of sound move along, underlaid with reverberation. In the spirit of fantasy stories, one might well think of lost souls who lament their grief from the afterlife. "Friends Forever" rounds off this experimental album. In this there are no smooth lines and linear processes, but rather curve images with large and small amplitudes.