Confirming his allegiance to intense improvising Hwang uses his violin and viola as doubling lead voices in the role soprano and tenor saxophones or trumpet and flugelhorn would take elsewhere. Luckily he and his associates on Human Rites Trio (True Sound Recordings TS03 jasonkaohwang.com), bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Andrew Drury, are perfectly matched, having worked in this configuration for years. Taking a far different approach to the viola than SETT’s Benedict Taylor, Hwang plays it almost exclusively pizzicato, treating it like a four-string mandolin. Most spectacularly, on the foot-tapping Conscious Concave Concrete he manipulates the instrument so at various junctures it takes on sitar and guitar-like affiliations as well as mandolin twangs. Without disrupting his low tones, Filiano also achieves guitar-like facility with fluid solos. Incorporating Drury’s cymbal clashes and steel drum-like suggestions, the trio achieves a singular sound which touches on the blues, as well as international inflections. Playing violin, as on Battle for the Indelible Truth, Hwang’s stretches and multiple stops are as pressurized and extended as the other two’s intense rhythm. Moving into an andante swing section, he backs Filiano’s Slam Stewart-like simultaneous bowing and vocal humming with high pitched trills; but later he creates a pseudo-violin concerto adding a romantic tinge to the tune’s dynamic unrolling. Still, the most dramatic display of the trio’s in-the-moment affiliation is heard on the two-part Words Asleep Spoken Awake. Setting the scene on Part 1, the three create an ambulatory introduction that is rounded and mellifluous until propelled to double in speed by drum rim shots and spiccato violin strokes. This leads to a repetitive multi-string motif that defines Part 2. As the violinist triple stops his strings at prestissimo tempo, Drury’s martial beats and striking pumps from Filiano prevent the narrative from breaking apart while maintaining intensity. Climactically altering his lines by loosening and tightening strings while strumming complementary tones, Hwang supplely and spectacularly demonstrates his skill with a final section where string splays bring up reed or brass intimations as the musical thoughts expressed at the CD’s beginning track are completed.
It’s clear that the variety of ways violins and violas can be integrated into improvised music are as individual as the person playing therm. These discs confirm this truism.
- Ken Waxman, published in the wholenote.com and jazzword.com