By Bruce Gallanter

AUGUST 4, 2023 

JASON KAO HWANG CRITICAL RESPONSE with ANDERS NILSSON / MICHAEL T.A. THOMPSON - Book of Stories (True Sound Recordings TS04; USA) Critical Response is Jason Kao Hwang on electric violin & compositions, Anders Nilsson on electric guitar and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. Since the turn of the millenium Downtown string wizard, Jason Kao Hwang, has released a half dozen discs, each one completely different from the others, personnel & concept-wise. From large ensembles (’Symphony of Souls’) to smaller ones (JH’s Edge), Mr. Hwang keeps pushing himself into unexpected terrain. In his early years, Mr. Hwang was known for playing Free/Jazz on his violin with the legendary loft/jazz ensemble Commitment (1981-1983). Hwang has been experimenting with playing electric violin and this is his first offering to feature him on electric violin, an instrument that has been around since the mid-seventies (during the fusion era), yet has just a few musicians who play it exclusively. For this new trio project, Hwang has chosen Anders Nilsson to play electric guitar. Mr. Nilsson is one Downtown’s best pickers who has worked with Fay Victor, Kalabalik (w/ Raoul Bjorkenheim & Gerald Cleaver) & Jeremy Carlstedt. Drummer Michael TA Thompson is someone I’ve long admired although he doesn’t seem to have been recorded very much (with Patrick Brennan, Charles Gayle & Vinny Golia).  

   `The opening piece, “The Power of Many in the Soul of One” is an epic length work dedicated to Joshua Wong, the leader of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. The piece has a soulful, bluesy vibe with strong interplay between the members of the trio. Both Mr. Hwang and Mr. Nilsson play the theme together as a unified force. The electric violin and electric guitar sound wonderful together, both have that strong, passion-filled edge, something that was often missing from the jazz/rock/fusion bands of the seventies when they became formulated & predictable due to chasing money & fame, rather than Art. Both Hwang and Nilsson use some devices on their respective instruments select but never too much. Mr. Hwang uses some subtle wah wah, giving his violin a more vocal sound. What’s interesting here is the way the trio plays with much restraint, slyly moving in waves around one another, sounding like the music was directed and not completely free. “Upside Down Circle” is a laid back, enchanting bluesy ballad of sorts with some exquisite violin & guitar playing together like old ghosts. Since this is just a trio, each member is integral so the sound. Drummer Michael TA Thompson takes a few short solos here & there which sound like they are an extension of whatever has come before or after. The opening theme on “Dragon Carved into Bone” is most hypnotic. This is followed by a freer section which includes some amazing solos from all three members of the trio. What I really dig about this is how well Jason Hwang & Anders Nilsson play together, their sound is somewhat similar, it's like they are coming from the same soulful fabric that connects all of us sensitive folks.