Jason Kao Hwang/ Critical Response bring thoughtful music to troubled times 

By Dodie Miller-Gould, lemonwire.com


Read at lemonwire.com


Violinist and composer, Jason Kao Hwang joins forces with his friends and trio mates, Anders Nilsson, and Michael T.A. Thompson to put forth an album of thoughtful and vigorous songs. “Book of Stories” is the latest release from the acclaimed Hwang, who has been on the world’s stage since the early 2000’s. His previous work seems to have paved the way for where Hwang is now. Together with Nilsson and Thompson, Critical Response, Hwang makes music for arguably troubled times, even as he tells stories that are both personal and universal. 

Jason Kao Hwang: an artist for modern times 

Hwang describes his music in the following way on rhizomedc.org: “My compositions are sonic rituals that strive to cultivate and affirm all that is good and greater than any one of us.” 

Which is exactly how “Book of Stories” feels. While there is always an intelligence to Hwang’s work, this one feels perfect for the current social, political, and even atmospheric climates most people are facing. The songs on “Book of Stories” brim with an awareness of things being off-kilter, but remind audiences that there is hope. Listeners hear the discord and learn to wait for the hope that arises. 

The year 2023 has been a good one for Hwang. He has been awarded a New Jersey State Council on the Arts fellowship, in July of this year, Hwang’s work was voted Best Jazz on Bandcamp. In part the review of “Book of Stories” on Bandcamp states that “Book of Stories” is arresting, captivating, and at times massively thrilling…” 

While the accolades are accurate, audiences would do themselves a favor by listening to this most singular work. 

The sound of “Book of Stories” by Jason Kao Hwang/Critical Response 

“Book of Stories” is a relatively brief album of five songs. The running time is a bit longer than 52 minutes. Two songs stand out, but none should be missed. Of note are “Upside Circle Down” and “A Silent Ghost Follows.” The latter is written stylized in all lower case letters on the album. 

“Upside Circle Down” 

Isolated instrumentation as if each player is waiting his turn. Things sound more electric and urgent after the minute and a half mark. In two minutes, the sound is frenetic, even more urgent than before. The song is the story of Hwang’s growing up on New York’s Lower East Side. At four minutes or so, the drums take the forefront, and at this point, listeners are invested and want to hear where the song is taking them. “Upside Circle Down” dances close to what some audiences have come to identify as “experimental,” but the poignant touches toward the middle- end, and the ultimate control during the more “frenzied” parts depict a story that must be told with innovation and emotional intelligence. 

“A Silent Ghost Follows” 

Solo, duo, and trio improvisations mark this work. The mood created is somber. Listeners cannot help but feel they are listening to the cry of birds as they swoop and glide overhead with the opening notes provided by the electric violin. The song is intended to depict psychoanalytic dreamwork in musical framework. Here, the guitar takes up almost whimsical riffs that shine in the forefront before fading out like some subconscious tangent. The electric violin is notable here for its able to shape its sound, or rather, Hwang is capable of shaping its sound, to create what is necessary for the next section of the song. Often, the instrument sounds like something else – – a synthesizer, a brass instrument that wrings out its notes. Listening to this piece it is easy to get caught up in the “how” of its sound, as opposed to the “why.” It is worth listening to multiple times. One listen provides little opportunity for appreciating the full genius of Hwang and Critical Response. 

For more information, visit: http://jasonkaohwang.com