Jason Kao Hwang: Human Rites Trio
Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz, July 4, 2020
Observance is at the heart of violinist Jason Kao Hwang's work, and no two musicians respect and fulfill the promise in his ritualistic art to the degree of bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Andrew Drury. The relationship between these three has traversed time and space(s), manifesting in a sea of strings for Symphony of Souls (Mulatta Records, 2011), playing to poetic notions on Lifelines (Innova Recordings, 2015), taking on a horn and harmonist in Sing House (Euonymus Records, 2017) and drawing on the powers of depth and expansion with the Burning Bridge octet. In each of those situations their responses to one another differ, but in every instance sympathies surface. It's apparent in the largest of settings and it's abundantly clear in this trimmed-down, triangular configuration.
This eponymous date presents six tracks that magnify a musical confluence while also playing to puckish divergence. It's a marriage of complete control and artful abandon that's never short on surprise. Human Rites Trio makes that perfectly clear from the outset. During "Words Asleep Spoken Awake: Part I," a bleak and foreboding melody gives way to dovetailing rhythmic interplay, sonic spindles and shards serve as implements of obfuscation, and avant-funk groove-play, with a touch of reggae nouveau, leads to a frenzied drum solo that seals the deal. The song's sequel complement—"Words Asleep Spoken Awake: Part II"—kicks off in high gear, swinging like mad and operating on the brink of insanity. A return to structure is welcome yet temporary, as Filiano fills the space with the weight of his bow, Drury conjures animalistic art by blowing air into a tube on his modified floor tom, and Hwang plays to suspense. A compelling couplet that holds nothing back, those companion pieces are the perfect glimpse into this trio's language and substance.
Moving from violin to viola, Hwang works with cycling points, explores zero gravity and goes for a bluesy stroll with his trio mates, all the while partially mirroring the titular alliteration in "Conscious Concave Concrete." He returns to that instrument once more for the album's finale—"Defiance," a song delineating the virtues in its name with patience, power and curiosity—but remains on violin for "2 AM," a number with mildly minacious beginnings and an undulating flow, and the lengthy "Battle for the Indelible Truth," a kaleidoscopic course in uncovering verities. Jason Kao Hwang, Ken Filiano and Andrew Drury know themselves well enough to be lost and found in each other's sounds, and that beauty points to what's right with Human Rites Trio's music.