Jason Kao Hwang: Book Of Stories

Chinese-American electric violinist, a guitarist and a drummer mix free improv with hints of rock, country and even a touch of manouche


Descriptions of the indescribable art of music are nowhere more endearing than in the liner notes to violinist Jason Kao Hwang’s new album, on which it is said we may divine not only “wild-flowered fields of turbulent tuttis” but also “a protean kaleidoscope of timbral possibilities”. In its albeit overloaded way, however, writer Scott Currie’s account of Hwang’s rapprochement with jazz-rock fusion does say something about what such reconsideration involves.

Hwang is a veteran of the New York avant-garde and its association with that city’s loft-jazz scene. The original compositions played here by his Critical Response Trio exhibit what can happen when the conventions of fusion – in which arguably both genres may lose something without the union offering much extra in consolation – begin exploring the turbulence and possibilities of timbre on byways far from the road that can lead jazz-rock to commercial exploitation and dilution.

This is evinced with declarative intent at the start on The Power Of Many In The Soul Of One, dedicated to Hong Kong democracy movement leader Joshua Wong and offering an introductory maelstrom soon steadied by a rock beat and flowing into a conventional roster of solos. But there’s a narrative to follow, with that steady drum marker erupting into tumult before the agitation and anxiety are pacified by the violin’s solicitude and its establishing of tranquility.

A Silent Ghost Follows is characterised by a heavy-treading, seven-note motif reducing to three notes and giving rise above muffled drums to wispy then chirruping violin figurations, raindrop guitar notes, and a twin-whammy coda consisting of double crescendi.

Two members of Hwang’s first band, the Commitment quartet, are remembered in Friends Forever, a mournful but plaintive ballad on which violin wah-wahs the long-breathed theme with the ever-tasteful guitar of Anders Nilsson and the ever-resourceful drumming of Michael T.A.Thompson linking arms. Upside Circle Down and Dragon Carved Into Bone are, with the opening, the two other lengthy tracks on an album about which Currie’s exuberant encomium is fully justified.

The Power Of Many In The Soul Of One; Upside Circle Down; A Silent Ghost Follows; Dragon Carved Into Bone; Friends Forever (52.38)
Jason Kao Hwang (elvn); Anders Nilsson (elg); Michael T.A. Thompson (d). New Jersey, 4 June 2022.
True Sound Recordings TS04