Jason Kao Hwang/ Sing House
by Robert Bush , The New York City Jazz Record, September, 2017
Violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang’s new quintet comes out swinging on Sing House, a freebop anthology reflecting his tenures with Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and other modern thinkers. The band features a frontline with trombone master Steve Swell and a rhythm section of Ken Filiano (bas), Chris Forbes (piano) and Andrew Drury (drums)
The disc opens strong with “No Such Thing,” a spasmodic lurch that marches toward an early release punctuated by Drury’s ecstatic break. Hwang and Swell make for an effective melodic force and each player contributes dramatic and bluesy features, inspiring an in-kind exposition from Forbes. But Filiano’s a cappella solo practically steals the show – you can hear him hum and hiss to accompany himself as he delivers a statement with enough wood in the tone to leave splinters.
The aptly titled “Dream Walk” begins with the leader’s pizzicato leading the full band into a gauzy surreal atmosphere spooky enough to function as the soundtrack to a vampire movie. Five minutes in, a new form emerges, gathering kinetic energy that uncoils with violent asides from Swell and Forbes before returning to the original theme.
Swell’s X-rated gurgling on “When What Could” leads the band into a free-wheeling discussion before everyone settles on a wicked ostinato that springboards the leader – whose raw and organic personal timbre is always compelling – into the stratosphere. Drury keeps the live-wire aesthetic going and Filiano closes with a formidable string bass soliloquy.
Martial drum cadences provide the groove engine powering “Inscribe,” offset by sawing bass arco in a moment reminiscent of Braxton’s “69 C” from Performance (Quartet) 1979 – high praise indeed. Forbes releases his best solo of the session – full of jagged clusters and splintered harmonies – codifying a marvelous outing of like-minded individuals.