June 22, 2017 

by Felipe Freitas, Jazz Trail 

Label/Year: Eonymous Records, 2017 

Lineup – Jason Kao Hwang: violin and viola; Steve Swell: trombone; Chris Forbes: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Andrew Drury: drums. 

American violinist, violist, and composer from Chinese descent, Jason Kao Hwang, has followed his own path in the avant-jazz scene with a few interesting albums of his own authorship and many memorable collaborations along the way with Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Dominic Duval, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, and more recently with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum. 

On his new work, Sing House, he establishes immersive sonic architectures with the help of a brand new quintet whose musicians have been accompanying him throughout the years, whether in personal projects like EDGE and Burning Bridge or other formations that some of them might put together. They are Steve Swell on trombone, Chris Forbes on piano, Ken Filiano on bass, and Andrew Drury on drums. 

The band conjures a variety of moods throughout the 49 minutes of an equilibrated album whose each of the four original compositions lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. 

“No Such Thing”, the opening piece, surges with a romping start, exposing the collective prowess through ever-shifting rhythms and natural sound manipulations. The introductory chapter fades out evenly, giving an opportunity to Drury, alone, to exhibit a few chattering drum scrambles. The improvisations are placed over the textural compactness formed by piano, bass, and drums. Still, the improvised discourses of Swell and Hwang occur within different settings. The former blows while having a denser funk-rock foundation under his feet; the latter bowed with a more volatile if audacious broken swing as a framework. Forbes’ bluesy pianism and rhythmic whirlwinds bring Horace Tapscott’s demeanors into the scene, impelling Drury to fire back with potent palpitations. Before finishing with calm poise, there is still time for Filiano’s complex bass plucking with bends, and Hwang’s violin whines and woes. 

Everyone must agree that dream walking is an instance of perils and an exposure to risk. It’s exactly this sense of uncertainty and even obscurity that Hwang describes in “Dream Walk”, where a mix of creaky and deep-toned sounds crush in and respond to one another with diligent counterpoint. A sudden wake up may bring another wild adventure and the quintet also covers that part with a half festive, half desperate sense of urgency, which translates into another set of extemporaneous outpours. 

“When What Could”, obeying to six note beats per bar, embraces malleable contortions as it flutters from spacious chamber music to catchy rock inflections, which are transformed and adapted again into a more freeing and abstract concept for the final section. 

The closing tune, “Inscribe”, nurtures beautiful orchestrations with different paces and resolute rhythms. Also overlapping ostinatos, triumphant solos, and enthusiastic parallel motions and unisons are also part of the trade. 

Never gratuitous, this is wise avant music on the cutting edge, thriving with an unmitigated magnetism, rhythmic resourcefulness, and shimmering lyricism.


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