In Book of Stories, arising from composition, improvisation, synergy, and truth seeking, Critical Response challenges the disillusionment and divisiveness that encircle this moment in history.
Michael T.A. Thompson and I performed many times with choreographer/dancer Patricia Nicholson. Both Michael and the late J.A. Deane, encouraged me to explore multiple FX processing. I have been listening to Anders Nilsson for years and knew that this trio would bond, and we have. Beginning in 2018, then interrupted by the pandemic, at long last, I am thankful to be sharing this CD with the world.
- Jason Kao Hwang
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.
Jason Kao Hwang, of course, is no stranger to fusions, having distinguished himself among the illustrious alumni of that loft scene by virtue of his visionary musical alchemy: amalgamating composition and improvisation, blending contemporary and creative music, integrating East and West. In this Book of Stories, he all but reinvents the electric violin to reimagine the synergies across the jazz-rock spectrum in concert with kindred spirits Anders Nilsson on electric guitar and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums.–
“The Power of Many in the Soul of One” provides immediate proof of concept, by deploying the tension between laid-back riff-based jams and aggressive rhythmic interruptions, as well as the contrast between wide-open fields of lyricism and dense battlegrounds of angst, to outstanding narrative effect, as the undercurrent of agitation introduced early on re-emerges in the urgent clashes of the harrowing collective-improvisational climax.
“Upside Circle Down” pays clearly heartfelt homage to Jason’s formative years on the Lower East Side scene, with a lofty ballad that dances perilously on the cutting edge of rhapsody, from the freely extemporized opening investigations of electric timbres, through chorus after chorus of the main song-form’s alternating funky riffs & lyrical bridge, to the concluding poignant trio improvisation and coda.
“a silent ghost follows” evokes electric soundscapes of psychoanalytic dreamwork, employing the manifest content of short unison lines as points of departure for exploring the latent content through solo, duo, and trio improvisations.
“Dragon Carved into Bone” invites listeners to join the trio in imagining the exciting directions in which fusion might have evolved had it held fast to its loft-era experimentalist DNA, perhaps cross-fertilizing with downtown punk and electronica to yield wild-flowered fields of turbulent tuttis, intense collective improvisation, and funky jam sections, as deeply rooted in the fierce urgency of now as in the fearless insurgency of then.
“Friends Forever” concludes the set with a moving tribute to the inspiration of departed comrades whose living legacies keep true believers moving forward with ever-increasing resolve, in this case with the blues-drenched melodicism that serves so often and so well as Jason’s compositional calling card.
Make no mistake: while drawing masterfully on all that has gone before, this trio has no time for nostalgia. Their music lives in the improvisational moment, as T.A.’s responsive propulsion drives Anders’ spiky virtuosity through Jason’s carefully structured compositional itineraries for these journeys of spontaneous discovery. Meanwhile, Jason’s painstaking attention to electronic detail transforms his instrument into a protean kaleidoscope of timbral possibilities, whose instantaneous metamorphoses evoke passing glimpses of shredding electric guitar, breathy wooden flute, and rich contrabass that further expand the vistas of his formidable violin conception. Altogether, throughout the fascinating combinations and permutations explored in Book of Stories, Critical Response’s spontaneous fusions bespeak a collaborative commitment to the present moment, in which shared memories of past glories engender collective visions of future possibilities.
- Scott Currie
The music of Jason Kao Hwang (composer/violin/viola) explores the vibrations and language of his history. His compositions are often narrative landscapes through which sonic beings embark upon extemporaneous, transformational journeys. Raised during the “melting pot” era of assimilation, Mr. Hwang did not learn Chinese from his immigrant parents, only English. When his parents spoke in Chinese to each other, he would listen intently to glean meaning from the inflection, pitch, rhythm, and timbre of their phrases. Mr. Hwang imagines this musical experience of the Chinese language as the foundation of his creative instincts. His most recent releases Critical Response, Book of Stories, Uncharted Faith, his duets with the late J.A. Deane, The Human Rites Trio, and Conjure, his duos with the late Karl Berger, have received critical acclaim. In 2019, 2018, 2013 and 2012 the El Intruso Jazz Critics Poll voted him #1 for Violin. The 2012 Downbeat Critics’ Poll voted Mr. Hwang as “Rising Star for Violin.” As violinist, he has worked with Henry Threadgill, Karl Berger, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Pauline Oliveros, Billy Bang, Leroy Jenkins, Patrick Brennan, Tomeka Reid and many others. As composer, Mr. Hwang has received support from Chamber Music America, US Artists International, the NEA, Rockefeller Foundation and others. He is a recipient of a 2023 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship.
Anders Nilsson is a New York-based guitarist, composer, improviser. He plays electric guitars, 11-string alto guitar and baĝlama. His output spans a wide musical spectrum ranging from solo shows (“Night Guitar”), Anders Nilsson Group (a rhythm-heavy band in NYC), "Outer Space Caravan" with violist Staphanie Griffin, saxophonist Michael Attias and bassist Ken Filiano, Anders Nilsson’s AORTA. He is also a band member in several groups playing jazz or improvised music. After receiving a BA from Malmö Academy of Music and having worked as a musician in Sweden for a few years he moved to New York in 2000 and got his MA from CCNY. He has performed and/or recorded or toured internationally with many artists associated with the blues/jazz/experimental paradigms such as Kalabalik (with Raoul Björkenheim and Gerald Cleaver), Paquito D’Rivera, William Parker, Elliot Sharp, Fay Victor, art-metal band Angelblood, and Persian vocalist Mohsen Namjoo. Always welcoming of interdisciplinary interaction, he has collaborated with Butoh artist Akira Kasai, theatre director Doris Mirescu and video artist Arrien Zinghini. Nilsson’s work as a composer includes music for short films, dance performances, string quartet, theatre plays, as well as a constantly growing book of a hundred compositions including brief to epic works for solo guitar, jazz, to large experimental ensemble works. Many of these works have been released on several acclaimed albums.
Soundrhythium Michael T.A. Thompson (drums) is an anomaly. He has played, toured and/or recorded with such a wide variety of musical artists, including Charles Gayle, Joe McPhee, Oliver Lake, Kidd Jordan, Alex Foster, Roy Campbell Jr., Dennis Gonzales, Matthew Shipp, Uri Caine, Henry Grimes, John Patitucci, Marc Ribot, William Parker, The Shadow, Becket, reggae artist Owen Gray, as well as artists from classical to rap and beyond. He has played on sound tracks for TV shows and Radio commercials etc.. T.A.'s palate encompasses an abundance of sound colors. He hears everything and plays with it in a way that's ever inventive and perceptively responsive. Thompson plays as he breathes. You'll always find him in the moment, inspired as well as inspiring.
Recording Engineer- Tom Tedesco, Tedesco Studios
Mix Engineer – Jason Kao Hwang
Mastering Engineer – Paul Zinman, Soundbyte Productions
Art and Design: William Mazza Studio
Liner Notes: Scott Currie
Photo: Tom Tedesco
Special Thanks: Gennevieve Lam, New Jersey State Council on the Arts
Best Jazz on Bandcamp, July, 2023: Book of Stories is arresting, captivating, and, at times, massively thrilling. Jason Kao Hwang’s trio with electric guitarist Anders Nilsson and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson dives into an adventurous fusion session where the musical influences never sit still... - Pep Mula, Bandcamp Read Full Review
Of all four albums by American violinist Jason Kao Hwan that I have listened to over the past four years, perhaps the newest one, Book of Stories, has come to my heart the most... 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. - Leonard Auskern, jazzquad.com Read Full Review
This captivating and wholly authentic album continues onward with the playful at times, cautious at others, and yet entertainingly gripping throughout a silent ghost, before we are brought forth my own personal favorite, the stuttered, clinically-sculpted Dragon Carved into Bone, the recording coming to a close on the flagging, yet quietly spirited Friends Forever. - Ann Carlini, anncarlini.com. Read Full Review
Hwang has emerged as one of the most relevant figures in both Brooklyn's more adventurous scene and New York's Lower East Side… “Book of Stories” reveals a remarkable collaborative effort between Jason Kao Hwang, Anders Nilsson and Michael T. A. Thompson, which starts from a ballast of memories to envision possibilities for the future. - António Branco, jazz.pt. Read Full Review
(Google translate from German) 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. - Ferdinanc Dupuis-Panther, Jazz Halo Read Full Review
While Hwang will always be vibing musically with incredible new ensemble configuration, the perfect pairing of his trippy, insightful music and Currie’s mind-blowing descriptions will always be an exciting constant. Jonathan Widron, The JW Vibe Read Full Review
Jason Kao Hwang brought Critical Response to Bushwick Public House last night for a dynamic set of improvisations. The music was fully improvised, riveting throughout, and evolved impressively from beginning to end. - Cisco Bradley, Jazz Right Now Read Full Review
Next up was the Critical Response Trio with violinist Jason Kao Hwang, guitarist Anders Nilsson, and drummer Michael TA Thompson, accompanied by an eleven piece dance troupe. It was fantastic. The trio, whom I had heard once before exactly one year ago at an intimate concert in Beacon, NY, were spot on again. - Paul Acquaro and Martin Schray, The Free Jazz Collective Read full review