Violinist Jason Kao Hwang, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Andrew Drury communicate in a musical language perfected over years of collaboration. The experience of workshopping music together, testing it in concert, and making revisions has resulted in a palpable depth of shared feeling and common understanding. Hwang’s latest endeavor with Filiano and Drury, Human Rites Trio, was completed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting our current age of anxiety. In the liner notes, Hwang dedicates the album to the heroic doctors, nurses, and frontline workers saving lives – and those we have lost to the disease. 

Mirroring the onslaught of the pandemic and our attempts to adapt to a new normal, the angular fits and starts of “Words Asleep Spoken Awake, Part 1” give way to a structured groove and anthemic melody, while “Part 2” transitions from bristling frenzy to haunting elegy. The episodic suite incorporates funk, swing, and free-form sections, with seamless transitions between recurring motifs and individual solos that demonstrate the trio’s uncanny chemistry: Filiano’s sinewy arco statement in the second half, complete with double-stopped multiphonics, is echoed by Drury’s breathing tube/floor tom extrapolation; Hwang picks up where Drury leaves off, with rough-hewn lyricism. 

“Conscious Concave Concrete” slows the pace, offering emotional respite. Hypnotic interplay between bass and drums underpins Hwang’s rubato solo, his Korean-influenced pizzicato adopting a bluesy swagger that unites Eastern and Western tonalities. Further rejection of conventional boundaries materializes in “2AM,” where a languid contrapuntal opening modulates into an extended foray for the rhythm section, capped by Drury’s roiling solo and tremulous strings. 

The frenetic “Battle for the Indelible Truth” and discordant “Defiance” transpose the group’s name into a rallying cry. The former is volatile, progressing through a range of emotions, from raw expressionism and poignant lyricism to serene introspection. The latter emulates an epic struggle, with dynamic shifts in tone between composition and improvisation as the piece ascends from impressionistic pointillism to stately formalism, ending in near silence. 

Hwang’s synergy with Filiano and Drury has grown with each successive project in the fifteen years since they first recorded together – from Hwang’s Edge quartet, and Spontaneous River string orchestra, to his Sing House quintet, and Burning Bridge octet. In Human Rites Trio, the collaborative interplay of their individual voices unites once again in common purpose. Hwang sums it up best in the liner notes, “As we hear ourselves within music we become Music, which is no longer a performance but an affirmation of justice and celebration of life.” 

–Troy Collins, Point of Deparutre   Read at Point of Departure