by Thomas Erdman
November 30, 2005
Composer/Violinist Jason Kao Hwang is no stranger to creative music. Having worked in New York's thriving cauldron of music and musicians, his prowess has been noted not just by fellow musicians and teachers, but also by preeminent philanthropic organizations. His music for the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company had premiered at the New Jersey Performing Art Center and Baruch College, and he has received support from Meet the Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation and Mary Flagler Carey Trust Foundation. As a performer Hwang has recorded with such notable forward thinking musicians as Anthony Braxton, Dominic Duval, Henry Threadgill, Reggie Workman, and Butch Morris, to name just a few.
Edge is Hwang's newest ensemble. Leaving Asian influences aside, this free-jazz group works within contexts framed by Hwang, but only limited by the imagination of the group's members, and with these musicians almost everything is possible. Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, has a facile mind and supple and embouchure. Throughout the disc he finds ways to say new things with his horn, but always in relation to the surrounding musical ethos. He flits and flirts with tessitura and rhythmic subdivisions as well as changing his tone when the spirit and style moves him. His pedaltone dots and dashes on "Threads" comfortably fit with the exquisite bass work of Ken Filiano and contrast nicely with trillish nature of some of his other statements. Andrew Drury's percussion work is tasteful and cleanly defined. He has an innate understanding of dynamic contrast and how his support and can help push others to high levels of artistic development.
Hwang, as a performer, is skillful and musical at all times. Whether pursuing microtonal colors, as on "No Myth," or driving the ensemble from behind his rhythmic abstractions on "Parallel Meditations," Hwang shows why he is so highly regarded among string artists in New York. It is, however, his skeletal charts, that are the real stars in this recording. His compositional acumen is widely regarded and shows itself to be a perfect foil and guidepost as the musicians traverse music's hardest genre – free jazz. By setting up situations in which the musicians can play with and off-of each other, Hwang always keeps the music moving forward at a lively pace – truly rare and most welcomed in free jazz. "Threads" is a true delight and a great example of how the use of short sectional concepts can be used in both contrast and unity in creating a greater Gestalt, and the quickly evolving "Parallel Meditations" is a wonderful study in motor rhythmic development.
These musicians have just begun to work together in the free jazz format, and their music will no doubt gain further fruit the more they create musical associations as a group. At that point the need for so structured a context will no doubt prove needless. While sparks fly in this recording, hearing this group in a few years, should they continue to work together on a regular basis, could be something really special.
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-- Jazz Review, Thomas R. Erdman - November 30, 2005