Jason Kao Hwang: “Human Rites Trio” (True Sound) 

by António Branco, Jazz.pt

(google translation)

Time, as Machado de Assis wisely wrote, is an invisible chemist, which dissolves, composes, extracts and transforms. A decade and a half ago, in the unsuspected city of Tondela, I watched a performance by the trio of drummer / percussionist Ravish Momin, in which the violinist / violist Jason Kao Hwang and, exceptionally, bassist Ken Filiano (called at the last minute to replace the also a listener Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, who had been held up in Washington because of bad weather after a concert with John Zorn). At the same festival I also witnessed the European debut of the trio of a drummer I did not know at the time, called Andrew Drury (the trio also included pianist Myra Melford and clarinetist and saxophonist Chris Speed) and a memorable solo performance by Filiano. 

Shortly thereafter, Hwang, Filiano and Drury would meet in the Edge quartet (which was completed by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum) for a first recording. A close musical complicity that would continue to develop in the following years, in different musical contexts, as in the string group (plus drums) Spontaneous River, in the Burning Bridge octet, in the Sing House quintet and, more intimately, in this Human Rites Trio. 

From the combination of talents and experiences, music has emerged that is difficult to catalog, bringing together elements from different sources, from free jazz to classical, passing through free improvisation and oriental traditions. The record we have just heard was completed during the Covid-19 pandemic and aims to honor the work of doctors, nurses and other frontline professionals who helped save lives despite the dire circumstances. In presentation notes, Hwang also dedicates it to all those who have not managed to escape the clutches of this disease that completely changed the dynamics of social relationship that we took for granted. 

The three virtuoso musicians are recognized for their exploration of the potential offered by the respective instruments. Individual voices intertwine in such a way that at every moment our senses are impacted in an unpredictable and deeply intentional way, creating firm bonds that unite musicians and listeners. The music of the Human Rites Trio was the object of decantation in several concerts, in a process that motivated discoveries that surprised the musicians themselves. 

In “Words Asleep Spoken Awake”, divided into two parts, Hwang's writing is a catalyst for sonic alchemy operations based on the interaction between the swirling cordophones and underlined by Drury's agitated and meticulous percussion. The versatile violin both sounds like a wind instrument and draws the most poignant of melodies. Filiano is, as always, superb in the use of the bow, creating textures that open wings for a Drury solo. Hwang takes over again, reintroducing a melodic motif that leads to the final section. 

“Conscious Concave Concrete” exhibits an unexpectedly tinted blues atmosphere, with Hwang developing on the viola (in “pizzicato”) the central beam - with echoes of Korean music, but looking almost like a banjo -, supported by a powerful performance by Filiano, which Drury complements with irresistible “groove”. The crossing of aesthetic boundaries is once again exemplified in “2 AM”, of which the asymmetrical line explored by Filiano, in tandem with the violin and then autonomous, and the effervescent battery, stand out. 

“Battle for the Indelible Truth” starts with an expressionist scrubbing the strings, from which contrasting melodic fragments emerge explored by Hwang, as if giving an account of the multicultural experiences he has lived since the era of “lofts” in the Lower East Side of New York. . Finally, “Defiance” resumes the oriental influences, in the zigzags of the strings and the melody that develops, balancing the material previously fixed with the improvisations that emanate from it. 

Proof that it is not governed by algebraic principles, the music of the Human Rites Trio is a space for sharing where anything is possible.   Read at Jazz.pt