Since delving into the New York loft jazz scene at the tender age of 19 in 1976, Jason Kao Hwang has matriculated through the ranks of American composers and improvisers with surprisingly little fanfare. In his early 20s, the violinist was already playing with such stalwarts as William Parker and Will Connell in co-op ensembles like Commitment. In 1983, he formed the mold-breaking Far East Side Band with kayagum master Sang-Won Park, tuba player Joe Daley and percussionist Yukio Tsuji, but only released two albums in more than a decade, one on New World, the other on Victo. Hwang also spent years composing a bold chamber opera, The Floating Box: A Story in Chinatown, which was issued by New World in 2005. Subsequently, there are relatively few CDs to support the idea that Hwang is one of the more innovative American composer/instrumentalists of his generation, making the eponymous debut of Edge a substantial addition to his discography.
A quartet with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist Ken Filiano and percussionist Andrew Drury, Edge places many of the essences of Asian music Hwang has distilled into a slightly more jazzcentric context. Though Hwang's compositions often employ non-Western tonalities and metric modulation, they also rely just as frequently upon such staples as propulsive bass lines and grooves. Although Hwang occasionally teams with Filiano to create a two-man string section, taps Bynum's wide range of textures, and calls upon Drury to stretch beyond jazz drumming, Hwang's music still gives the quartet ample opportunities to create music with an urgent jazz-informed heat. Edge lives up to its name in that it provokes keen listening, which ultimately speaks to the interplay within the quartet.
- Bill Shoemaker, Point of Departure, November 30, 2005