Stories Before Within
By Jordan Richardson
Blogcritic.org, April 9, 2008
I'm pretty sure Jason Kao Hwang has a little bit of crazy in him. Along with his group EDGE, Hwang has constructed a maddening sea of storytelling with Stories Before Within. Before we go any further, EDGE is comprised of Hwang as composer and violinist (he also plays the viola on one track), Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Andrew Drury on drums, and Ken Filiano on string bass. Stories Before Within is Hwang's second recording with EDGE, the first being 2006's Edge.
It's telling that "Cloud Call," the album's first track, begins with Filiano making his presence known with a haunting strike of his bass and a yell. The song moves like a terrifying movie chase, maybe like something out of a Hitchcock movie. A car loses its brakes and skids. Jimmy Stewart is driving and the roads are slick as hell. Hwang and Filiano taunt us half to death before cutting the lights about halfway through for Bynum's cornet. His solo helps us forget the chase for a moment, lulling us into that false sense of security storytellers love so much. Then, when nobody's looking, the song draws its close on creaks and groans as though the killer has made her way inside the house.
Naturally, the exposition of this type of avant-garde jazz is so highly subjective that it's almost impossible to place the music in an objective universe. What Hwang and EDGE do so well is grant their listener permission to assemble his or her own stories. The songs unfurl like conversations, like wise sages rousing us and heeding us with their expressive call.
"From East Sixth Street" is a soulful piece of music with eccentric cadence, teasing strings, and euphoric flares from Bynum. The composition hearkens back to Hwang's time in Manhattan in a little apartment and one feels the wistfulness in the piece. "Walking Pictures" sneaks into the picture as Filiano and Hwang toy with each other in a cat-and-mouse intro. The shifts and adjustments in the song take us from jazz to blues to a free-for-all without a glitch.
"Third Sight" has an Asian feel from birth as it marches its way forth. The sound is full and amiable, teeming with Korean influences. "Embers" serenely closes out the record with a sort of sorrow and gravity, as though behind a funeral procession. Perhaps we're mourning the ill-fated victim of the murder from "Cloud Call."
Hwang and EDGE meld together impeccably as a quartet, drawing potency from weakness and producing splendidly lingering sounds for the tenure of this enchanting record. The title, Stories Before Within, perfectly expresses the storytelling that takes place here, as the tales absorb themselves in the spirit of the listener and surpass time to dwell in the province possessed only by imagination.
- Jordan Richardson, blogcritics.com, April 9, 2008