Jason Kao Hwang: Human Rites Trio 
True Sound Recordings 

Telepathy is at an exceptionally high level on Human Rites Trio, the deep connection between violinist Jason Kao Hwang, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Andrew Drury the natural outgrowth of having played together for fifteen years. Credited as the composer of the album's six pieces and producer, Hwang is the de facto leader, but as a performing entity the trio's a group of equals. Each is a critical corner of the triangle, the music's shape impossible to sustain without all three present. 

While Hwang's other groups—among them, the octet Burning Bridge, quintet Sing House, orchestra Spontaneous River (Filiano and Drury members of all three)—provide their own distinct rewards, the trio format seems particularly well-suited to the three, given that it allows for playing of great freedom but without sacrificing the structural grounding compositional form imparts. Stated otherwise, the set-up liberates each to play with abandon without worrying that the music will lose focus or collapse into chaos. 

The rat-a-tat riffing with which “Words Asleep Spoken Awake: Part I” opens catches the ear right away, the loose rhythm paving the way for playing that's both individually expressive yet also collectively connected. Heard in isolation, each musician's playing would captivate; combined, the result compels all the more. Transitions transpire subtly, Drury even flirting with dub at one point, and for seven minutes, the trio progresses through multiple episodes without losing thematic coherence. Throwing caution to the wind, “Words Asleep Spoken Awake: Part II” charges from the gate, its swing gradually splintering into near-chaos with Hwang bowing wildly and the others stoking an equivalent degree of fury. 

Though the wee hours are effectively conjured in “2 AM” thanks to Filiano's bowed intro and the dirge-like tone, the music quickly grows animated, a second wind kicking in courtesy of Hwang's wide-eyed solo and the springy bass and drum turns that follow, Drury's delivered alongside unison string flurries. The dozen-minute ride that is “Battle for the Indelible Truth” gets underway with a suitably aggressive opening, Hwang shredding and Drury echoing him with cymbal crashes and rolls, but slowly transforms into a slow, lyrical meditation as the minutes pass. Hwang also plays viola on two tracks, the first “Conscious Concave Concrete,” a funky blues-inflected shuffler delivered at a relaxed mid-tempo and Hwang draping pizzicato over much of it, and the second “Defiance,” a wide-ranging, at times ceremonial exploration infused with the same uncompromising sensibility that informs the release in general. 

Recorded over two days in August 2019 in a Brooklyn studio, Human Rites Trio features playing of the high-wire, rough-and-tumble variety, the trio's expressions rooted in the rapport the musicians have developed over time. Such unpredictability makes for exciting and engaging music, and the greatest takeaway has less to do with the compositions and more with the always evolving interplay between them. 

September 2020

Ron Schepper, textura.com

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