It is difficult to escape the storytelling element of the new release Stories Before Within. There's that title for one; the cover art prominently displays an open book and the first sentence in the liner notes emphatically declares, "as he prepared his new release by Edge, violinist-composer Jason Kao Hwang was thinking about storytelling." The quartet is led by Hwang (violin and viola) with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Andrew Drury (drums) and the wonderful bassist Ken Filiano. It is uncanny to note how structurally similar the tracks are to their literary counterparts. The first four tracks begin with the climax, a dark, elastic arrangement where the bass plays a lead role that remains consistent and strong throughout. "Walking Pictures" starts with each instrument tightly creating a unified sound of anticipation and yearning. The melodic camaraderie five minutes into the piece is as striking as the sensual turn the arrangement takes. The viola enters and leaves provocatively, sweetly and with perfectly planned precision. No track differs significantly from the others - they obviously share a thematic link and listening in the order in which they are placed in the recording lends authenticity to the experience. Though tasteful and solemn, the first two tracks seem celebratory, with the drums central and the rabid screeches of the violin held together by the sanguine rhythm. The viola's appearance in "Walking Pictures" is sweet and it nimbly enters the song with mournful sinew and leaves quietly, knowing its place. "Embers" is a tragic composition, beginning quietly but taking brutally melancholic turns. Hwang's almost prodigious command over his instrument is impressive and "Embers" is an elegiac conclusion to a story of emotions that change so violently as to defy categorization. It's an expected conclusion built up since the opening note, but as the last note fades, tragically, the listener is left with something enduring and beautiful. Something very much like a story. For more information, visit innova.mu. This group is at Roulette Mar. 25th.
- Karla Cornejo, All About Jazz, March 1, 2008